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African Union court demands legal access for political detainees

President Saïed's regime has 15 days to respond to the ruling on politicians jailed in crackdown on opposition

The African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights has ordered the Tunisian government to allow jailed opposition politicians and activists access to their lawyers, giving President Kaïs Saïed's regime 15 days to respond.

The ruling by the African Union's Arusha-based court is in response to a case brought by Rodney Dixon KC, the former prosecutor for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, who is representing a group of Tunisian politicians including Ennahda leader Rachid Ghannouchi.

In April, the former speaker of parliament was arrested and charged with 'conspiracy against state security' and has been jailed for a year (Dispatches 25/4/23, Saïed steps up attacks on the opposition).

The other plaintiffs are Said Ferjani, another high-profile Ennahda leader, Ghazi Chaouachi, the leader of opposition party at-Tayyār ad-Dīmuqrāṭī (Democratic Current), and Noureddine Bhiri, an ex-MP and former justice minister, all of whom have been arrested and detained.

The crackdown against opposition politicians and civil society activists has been stepped up this year, with the headquarters of Ennahda and the National Salvation Front raided by the security services and both parties banned from holding meetings.

The court also ordered the Tunisian government to inform the detainees, their families and lawyers of the reasons for their detention, and provide them with 'adequate information and facts' related to their arrests.

This is not the first time that the African Union court has censured the president. Last October, the court ruled that Saïed's presidential decrees issued after he suspended parliament and government in July 2021 were illegal and should be immediately nullified (Dispatches 19/10/22, African Union offers hope for oppositionists seeking diplomatic support). However, the judgement was ignored by President Saïed.

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