Families of imprisoned Tunisian dissidents head to International Criminal Court

Jailed Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi (Hassene Dridi/AP/PA)
Jailed Islamist party leader Rached Ghannouchi (Hassene Dridi/AP/PA)

Family members of jailed lawyers and politicians in Tunisia want the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate claims of political persecution and human rights violations.

The move comes as an increasing number of President Kais Saied’s opponents are arrested and several in prison stage hunger strikes.

Yusra Ghannouchi, the daughter of jailed opposition leader Rached Ghannouchi, plans to join other jailed dissidents’ sons and daughters in The Hague on Thursday to announce plans to pursue action at the court.

Members of the same group made a similar case to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights earlier this year.

In a press release on Monday, they noted the increasing number of judges, politicians, journalists and prominent opposition voices being arrested and alleged a campaign of persecution against black migrants throughout Tunisia.

Tunisia Imprisoned Opponents
Tunisia’s President Kais Saied (Johanna Geron/Pool Photo via AP/PA)

“There has been a major increase in repression and mass human rights violations by Tunisian authorities at the behest of President Kais Saied,” the press release read.

In addition to Mr Ghannouchi, the group includes: Kaouther Ferjani, daughter of Mr Ghannouchi’s Ennahda colleague Said Ferjani; Jaza Cherif, son of scholar-activist Chaima Issa; and Elyes Chaouachi, son of lawyer and former politician Ghazi Chaouachi.

Each parent is a vocal critic of Mr Saied who is or has been imprisoned. More than 20 Saied opponents have been imprisoned since February on charges that include endangering state security.

The group is expected to file what is called an Article 15 submission on Thursday, providing the court’s prosecutor documents that outline claims of at least one of the four crimes it pursues — genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or crimes of aggression.

Anyone can file such a claim with the court for review. Though they are a significant channel for the International Criminal Court, few progress to extensive investigations.

“They provide a unique channel for actors, including NGOs and victims’ associations, to bring the prosecutor’s attention to alleged crimes,” said Maria Elena Vignoli, Human Rights Watch’s senior international justice counsel.

The group’s arrival at the court comes amid hunger strikes, and days after former politician Abir Moussi, another prominent Saied opponent, was detained while trying to file a complaint at Carthage Palace, the Tunisian president’s headquarters. On Tuesday, her lawyer told TAP, Tunisia’s official news agency, that he did not know why she was being detained for 48 hours.

In recent weeks, jailed politicians in Tunisia have staged hunger strikes to protest what five strikers’ defence team called “a judicial sham” that led to their imprisonment.