Tunisian judges reject the president’s “illegal” dissolution of the Judicial Council

On Sunday, Tunisian judges rejected President Kais Saied’s move to dissolve the council that oversees them, a move they see that undermines their independence and launches a new struggle for his consolidation of power.

Saied announced overnight that he would dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council, one of the few remaining state bodies that can still act independently of him, the latest in a series of moves that his opponents call a coup.

Tunisian police have locked the doors of the Supreme Judicial Council and have stopped staff from entering, the council chief told Reuters on Monday.

Saied’s announcement has raised fears of the rule of law in Tunisia after he seized almost total power last summer in a move his critics call a coup, in which judges’ associations accuse him of an illegal act that undermines legal independence

In July, he abruptly shut down parliament, fired the prime minister and said he could rule by decree, and he has since said he will rewrite the 2014 Democratic constitution before it is released for a referendum.

Saied has promised to uphold the rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, but his critics say he is increasingly leaning towards the security forces and fears he will take a tougher stance against dissent.

However, Tunisia’s terrible economic problems and a looming public finances crisis risk undermining Saied’s declared plan to restore the 2011 revolution with a new constitution, increasing the risk of public unrest.

Saied has been at loggerheads with the judiciary for months, criticizing its decision, accusing it of corruption and saying it has been infiltrated by his political enemies.

The head of the Supreme Judicial Council, Youssef Bouzakher, said early on Sunday that the dissolution was illegal and marked an attempt to get judges under presidential instruction.

“Judges will not be silent,” he warned.

Later, two other legal organizations condemned the move as unconstitutional. The Young Magistrates Association said it was part of a political purge of the judiciary and the Judges Association said Saied was trying to gather all powers in his own hands.

Small protestSaied, a professor of constitutional law before running for president in 2019, is married to a judge and has repeatedly said that the judiciary should remember that it represents a function of the state rather than being the state itself.

In January, he revoked financial privileges for council members and accused the independent body set up in 2016 of appointing judges to their positions based on loyalty to its leadership.

“Their place is not where they are now, but where the accused are,” Saied said of the councilors in his overnight speech, which was held from the building of the Interior Ministry, which oversees Tunisia’s security forces.

Saied had called on supporters to protest against the council on Sunday, but only a few hundred people showed up. Some held a banner that read, “The people want to cleanse the judiciary.”

Several main parties in the closed parliament, including the moderate Islamist Ennahda who has been part of successive governments since 2011, accuse Saied of a coup.

Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, who also chairs the suspended parliament, said in a statement on Sunday that the body had rejected Saied’s decision to dissolve the council and expressed solidarity with the judges.

Three other parties, Attayar, Joumhouri and Ettakatol, issued a joint statement rejecting the move.

( Jowhar with REUTERS)

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