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UK Urged to Seek Release of Tunisian Opposition Figure Jailed in Crackdown

Daughter of Said Ferjani, who lived in UK for more than 20 years, says he has been falsely imprisoned and asks MPs to intervene

Britain is being urged to help protect the last vestiges of the Arab spring by calling for the release of Said Ferjani, the leading Tunisian politician who has been thrown into prison as part of an effort to silence the critics of the country’s increasingly authoritarian president.

Ferjani, 68, lived in the UK in political exile for more than two decades before returning for Tunisia’s democratic awakening in 2011.

Tunisia is seen as the birthplace of the Arab spring but Kaouther Ferjani the London-based daughter of Said said “the collapse of the country into a fascistic dictatorship represented one of the great tragedies of modern politics”.

She is asking British MPs to urge the UK Foreign Office to do more to demand his release saying he has been imprisoned on trumped-up charges.

He was arrested on 27 February, and she says despite intensive interrogation no evidence was found against him.

Ferjani, a leading figure in the Ennahda party, was previously detained and tortured when former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was in power in Tunisia, leading to his exile in London for more than 20 years from 1989. He returned to Tunisia following the ousting of Ben Ali and, because of his commitment to Tunisia, never sought dual citizenship in the UK.

Kaouther Ferjani said: “The fact that he is now being held as a political prisoner under [the president] Kais Saied’s regime is alarming and must be condemned by the international community”. Saied came to power in a landslide victory in 2019, but then turned the parliament into a rubber-stamp body in 2021, a move he had endorsed in a referendum on a tiny turnout. Since then he has lost further popularity and responded by rounding up opposition figures and denouncing undocumented black migrants. Hundreds of opposition supporters marched in central Tunis on Sunday defying a protest ban and demanding the release of their leaders.

Kaouther Ferjani said her father was taken to hospital soon after his arrest but has now been returned to jail. He went on hunger strike after his arrest, and is due to see his lawyer on Monday to discuss the absence of charges against him.

She said “As a democratically elected politician and leading figure in Tunisian politics, my dad has played an instrumental role in promoting democracy and human rights in Tunisia since the Arab spring. His imprisonment, along with at least 16 other political prisoners this month – including politicians, journalists and judges – is a blatant attempt to suppress opposition voices.”

She said “Tunisia is heading down a very worrying path of authoritarianism and it is important that the UK speaks out strongly against this”.

Noureddine Bhiri, one of the most prominent figures within Tunisia’s Ennahda opposition party, and Noureddine Boutar, the head of radio station Mosaique FM, were among those detained in a wave of arrests linked to the Instalingo case. Instalingo is a media company based in Tunis that has been under investigation by Tunisian authorities. A number of company 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 Saied.

The state-sponsored arrests included journalists, bloggers, freelancers and politicians, including the head of the Ennahda Movement, Rachid Ghannouchi, his daughter and son-in-law, Rafik Abdessalem, and former spokesman of the ministry of interior Mohamed Ali Aroui. Some have been subsequently released without charge.

The US state department has expressed alarm at reports that criminal charges are due to be laid against individuals for meeting US diplomats.

Source : The Guardian