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Tunisia Opposition Families Petition Africa Rights Court

FILE - Supporter of the leader of the Ennahdha party Rached Ghannouchi, hold placards as they stage a protest at Tunisia's anti-terrorism unit in Tunis, Tunisia, Tuesday, July 19, 2022.

NAIROBI — The families of five prominent detainees and one deceased opposition member have approached the African Court of Human and People’s Rights in Tanzania to file petitions at the against the government of Tunisia.

The families, which include the family opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, are calling on the international community to pressure President Kais Saied’s government to release political detainees and end the crackdown on the freedom of expression.

Speaking to VOA, the family members urged the international community to impose sanctions on Tunisian government officials, including President Saied, over what they call gross human rights violations.

Tunisia is one of only six African countries that have fully signed up to the African court of human rights, allowing Tunisians to directly approach the court.

Yusra Ghannouchi, the daughter of opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, who has been in prison since mid-April, told VOA the families are petitioning the court to seek justice and a ruling to end the plight of their detained family members.

Tunsia's anti-terrorism court sentenced her father under its 2015 anti-terrorism law, which mandates up to life in prison or the death penalty, for statements that promote religious hatred.

"Tunisia is a member of the African Court and its rulings are binding on Tunisia," Yusra Ghannouchi said.

Kaouther Ferjani, the daughter of detained opposition parliamentarian Said Ferjani, said the situation in Tunisia has been deteriorating since Saied shut down the previous elected parliament in July 2021, moving to rule by decree and introduced policies that reduce any checks and balances on his power by the parliament or the courts.

Opposition parties have called the move a "constitutional coup."

President Saied has justified his actions – including the arrest of more than 20 journalists and opposition leaders since February – as an effort to end what he called political paralysis and corruption. He has maintained his actions were legal.

"Currently the situation in Tunisia has been deteriorating rapidly ever since the coup. The crackdowns have gone beyond the main prominent political opposition," Kaouther Ferjani said. "Now it's for anyone who criticizes either the regime or anything around the regime."

The families of the detained say they fear for their safety.

The case challenging Saied’s government in the African Court of Human and People’s Rights is expected to be heard in June.