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Tunisia: Family of detained politician call on UK to sanction Kais Saied

Said Ferjani was one of dozens of opposition figures rounded up in a crackdown after the president's 'constitutional coup'
Said Ferjani was an Ennahda MP before the Tunisian parliament was dissolved by President Saied in 2021 (Screengrab/Kashf Media)

The family of jailed Tunisian politician Said Ferjani called on Wednesday for the British government to impose sanctions on President Kais Saied and other senior officials in Tunisia, in response to the recent wave of crackdowns targeting the country's peaceful opposition. 

Speaking from London, Kaouther Ferjani described how her father, who is 68, was put in an overcrowded cell with 120 other people and taken to hospital several times because of his poor health, following his detention on 28 February.

“My father and countless other Tunisians are paying a very high price for their belief in human rights and participation in democracy," said Ferjani, during a press conference at London's Temple Chambers, attended by journalists and Ferjani's family members and lawyer. 

'Without the bite of sanctions, there is little hope that things will change in Tunisia'

- Rodney Dixon, Ferjani's lawyer

"He was sent to the hospital a few times. He lost consciousness when doctors tried to do a blood test and could not take his blood as they were not allowed to uncuff him. There is no need for such cruelty and injustice. 

"Democracy in Tunisia cannot survive if these are the repercussions for expressing an opinion."

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Other figures named in the sanctions request include former Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine, Justice Minister Leila Jaffel, Minister of Defence Imed Memmich and former acting Minister of the Interior Ridha Gharsallaoui. 

Tunisia has been engulfed in political and economic crises since July 2021, when Saied unilaterally suspended parliament and dissolved the government in what has been dubbed a "constitutional coup". 

He subsequently ruled by decree, before pushing through a new constitution that enshrined his one-man rule.

Human rights lawyer Rodney Dixon, who represents Ferjani and other Tunisians detained by Saied, lodged the request for sanctions with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly under Britain's Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations. 

“The very purpose of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations is to deter and provide accountability for the perpetrators of serious human rights violations," said Dixon. 

"Our clients have suffered such abuse, as part of a wider pattern of systematic breaches of human rights laws. They have been targeted, detained and tortured and, in the case of Ridha Bouzayene, murdered." 

Dixon added that his sanctions request was made on behalf of Noureddine Bhiri, an MP and former justice minister of Tunisia, Bechir Akremi, a judge and former public prosecutor, Said Ferjani, and the late opposition party member Ridha Bouzayene. 

He pointed out that sanctions, if imposed, would mean Saied and his family members would not be allowed to enter Britain, and any assets owned by Saied in the UK would be frozen indefinitely.

At the press conference in London on Wednesday, Dixon said that he planned to pursue sanctions against Saied in other jurisdictions, including the EU, which follows a similar sanctions process to Britain.

“We want to create a web around the world that individuals accused of these outrageous crimes will not be allowed to travel freely,” he said.

“Without the bite of sanctions, there is little hope that things will change in Tunisia."

Trumped up claims

Following his arrest in Tunis last month, Ferjani was hospitalised after a hunger strike in protest at a court's decision to send him to prison without charge. 

His daughter, Kaouther, said Tunisian police questioned her father about media company Instalingo, despite him not being named as one of the defendants currently being investigated. 

Instalingo is a media company based in Tunisia that has been under investigation by the authorities. A number of its employees have been detained on accusations of committing "a dangerous act against the head of state".

The company has denied links to the Ennahda party and said the case against them has been "completely politicised" by President Kais Saied. 

In 2021, a leaked document obtained by Middle East Eye outlined how Saied planned to seize control of Tunisia in a bloodless coup.

The document stated that Ferjani would be among several political figures placed under house arrest to help Saied take control of the country.

Ferjani was previously arrested by the late dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 1987.

He spent 18 months in prison, where interrogators reportedly broke his back and fractured his vertebra with an iron rod.

But after a popular revolution ousted Ben Ali from power in 2011, Ferjani returned to Tunisia from exile in London and was elected as an MP for Ennahda, serving as a party adviser.

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