Human Rights Watch says Kais Saied’s government has stripped the independence of the judiciary as arrests of opponents continue.
Tunisia must reinstate all judges and prosecutors arbitrarily fired by President Kais Saied, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The latest from the watchdog reportpublished on Monday, came after the Justice Ministry appointed by Saied refused to reinstate 49 magistrates, despite an order from the Administrative Court to do so.
“These blows to the independence of the judiciary reflect the government’s determination to subjugate prosecutors and judges to the executive, at the expense of Tunisians’ right to a fair trial before independent and impartial judges,” said Salsabil Chellali, HRW’s Tunisian director.
The human rights watchdog described Saied’s announced anti-corruption campaign as a “power grab” that began on July 25, 2021, when Saied sacked then-Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and gave himself broad powers.
On 6 February 2022, he unilaterally dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council (HJC) – a constitutional body responsible for guaranteeing the independence of the judiciary – and replaced it with a temporary council that appoints all 21 members.
Saied also granted himself the power to intervene in the career paths and dismissal of magistrates without any form of immediate appeal.
On June 1, 57 judges and prosecutors were fired after allegations of financial and “moral” corruption and obstruction of investigations. Under the new provisions introduced by Saied, criminal charges have been brought against them automatically.
Despite the law granting magistrates the right to challenge their dismissal after the courts make a final decision in their criminal cases, they have nevertheless appealed their dismissal to the Tunis Administrative Court.
The court ruled in favor of 49 of them, saying the actions against them “a violation of the right to a fair trial” and “serious violations of the right of access to court, the presumption of innocence and the right to a defense ” goods. .
Speaking to Human Rights Watch, dismissed magistrates said their pay and benefits, including health insurance, had been reduced and they were being harassed online on social media pages that supported the authorities.
Sadok Hachicha, an investigating judge at the Sousse Court of First Instance, was a judge for almost 30 years before being dismissed.
The president’s decision is “politically motivated … against judges who did not want to follow orders,” Hachicha said. “It is meant to frighten the judges, to suppress any independent spirit.”
Hachicha said he believed his resignation was in retaliation for ordering Mehdi Ben Gharbia, a prominent businessman who served as a minister from 2016 to 2018 and was an MP who disbanded Saied, to be provisionally released in December 2021 after being fired. arrested on corruption charges.
The prosecution appealed the decision and Hachicha says he was subpoenaed six times by the Justice Department for his handling of the case and was the target of a social media smear campaign.
In another case, comments by President Saied sparked a social media campaign against a female judge, Khira Ben Khalifa, who had been accused of adultery.
Personal details, including the official police report and a so-called “virginity test”, were disclosed on social media pages supporting the president.
Saied framed his actions as part of what he says is an anti-corruption campaign.
HRW rejected the president’s position. “The fight against corruption should not be used for political purposes and should be carried out in accordance with the rule of law,” Chellali said.
“Authorities must immediately stop their attacks on the judiciary and their attacks on the judges through persecution and intimidation.”
HRW’s report comes as Tunisian authorities continue an arrest campaign against opposition figures.
Tunisian media reported on Monday that Said Ferjani, a leading figure of the Ennahdha party, had been arrested.
It followed the arrest of Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, another prominent opponent of Saied, last week.