Tunisian judges protest president’s decision to dissolve court oversight body

More than 200 judges and lawyers in black protested Thursday in front of the main court in the Tunisian capital after President Kais Saied pledged to abolish a key judicial body.

Judges have been on strike since Wednesday in the North African country, the birthplace of the 2011 Arab uprisings, to protest Said’s move at the weekend to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council (CSM) months after seizing power in July.

At a demonstration in central Tunis on Thursday, police looked at as protesters chanted “Restore the CSM” and “The people want an independent judiciary.”

Some carried banners describing Saeed’s move as a “violation of rights and freedoms” and wrote: “There is no democracy without an independent judiciary.”

Saied has long been accused of obstructing politically sensitive investigations and influencing its opponent, the Islamist-inspired Ennahda party.

Announcing he would dissolve it, he said he had no intention of interfering with the judiciary, but rights groups and world powers described it as a step backwards in a country seen as the only – albeit ineffective – democracy that emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings.

Saeed, who late last year granted himself powers to pass legislation, said Thursday that he plans to order in the coming days to formally dissolve the National Security Council.

“Let me be clear: the council will be dissolved and replaced by another by decree,” he said.

Justice is a function, not a branch of government. All judges are accountable to the law.”

In a statement issued Thursday, the Supreme Judicial Council said it “categorically rejects the use of decrees to violate the constitutional structure of the judiciary” and that any alternative would have no legal basis. Some lawyers who participated in the march have openly criticized Said’s policies in the past.

On Wednesday, a group of 45 civil society groups issued a statement rejecting “any interference from the executive authority in the work of the judiciary.”

They said that the Supreme Judicial Council, despite its “flaws,” is the only institution that guarantees the independence of the judiciary.

Many Tunisians, fed up with the rule of political parties seen as corrupt and self-serving, welcomed Said’s move on July 25 to dismiss the government and suspend parliament.

But his critics accused him of pushing Tunisia down a slippery slope to return to authoritarian rule.

(AFP)

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