Tunisia: Lawyers and Striking Judges protest President's Action

TUNIS -- Tunisian judges and lawyers staged a small protest Wednesday outside the capital's courts as part of their week-long strike after the dismissal of 57 judges by the president.

Tunisia: Lawyers and Striking Judges protest President's Action

TUNIS -- Tunisian judges and lawyers staged a small protest Wednesday outside the capital's courts as part of their week-long strike after the dismissal of 57 judges by the president.

As President Kais Saied tightens control of power, the president's decision to remove the judges was the latest indication of his growing interference in the judiciary. After he overthrew the government and assumed executive power, critics accused Saied of orchestrating a coup in July 2021.

Tunis's Palace of Justice was the scene of dozens of activists and lawyers gathered to protest Saied's actions. Some shouted, "Down with this coup!" while others chanted "Judicial Authority, No Police Orders!"

Several lawyers stated to The Associated Press that they would continue to oppose the actions of President Tunisia, including his decision to abandon Tunisia's constitution from 2014 and to rule by decree.

Lawyer Amel Miladi stated that Saied's firing of judges was illegal and fraudulent. She said that the firings did not follow laws "made in Tunisia to protect citizens... laws that were anchored in Tunisian constitution law."

Miladi stated that she believes the strike was successful and would continue. Nawel Toumi, another lawyer, stated that they would "continue the movement and continue saying no".

Saied justified his actions last week by listing a series of allegations with little evidence against dozens judges. These accusations range from alleged corruption to the illegal amassing wealth to protecting terrorists or sexual harassment.

Over the weekend, hundreds of judges unanimously voted to hold a sit in and strike. They accused the president for not respecting the constitution and for removing judges without recourse to disciplinary procedures.

Since Monday, all North African courts have been closed. Anas Hamadi (president of the Association of Tunisian Magistrates) said that 99% of judges took part in the strike's first day. Hamadi stated that the protest will continue until the dismissed judges are reinstated.

Saied responded by reducing the salaries of judges in line with the strike days.

Jawher Ben Mbarek, a constitutional law professor and opposition figure, told the AP that he attended Wednesday's protest in support of the judiciary's independence following Saied's "attacks against the justice system" and the judiciary.

"(Saied), has harassed judges as well as the justice system... He has granted himself the authority to fire judges unilaterally, without any motive or official investigation. Ben Mbarek said that this is an apprentice dictator who is trying to restore the dictatorial regime that Tunisians have gotten rid of in 2011.

Ben Mbarek said that the political crisis had now reached state institutions for the first time in 25 July, when Saied first frozen Parliament.

"The judiciary is a sovereign institution of Tunisian state and is now in conflict with President of the Republic. This is a new fact: Kais Saied is being resisted by the state for the first time. This is a new fact and I believe this will prove fatal to him."

Saied was granted broad powers by the president last year. These were measures that the president claimed were necessary to "save the nation from imminent peril" as well as to combat widespread corruption.

He replaced Tunisia’s Supreme Judicial Council earlier this year. This council was a crucial guarantor for judicial independence in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that saw the fall of an autocratic leader and brought about democratic reforms.

Saied, under pressure from Tunisia’s allies who are concerned about democracy backsliding within the country, laid out a roadmap which foresees organizing an July 25 referendum on reforms political and a Dec. 17 election parliamentary.

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