Human rights and civil society organisations are calling for an end to attacks on Tunisia’s judiciary.
About 37 organisations – both Tunisian and international ones, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International – released a statement on Monday voicing concern about the crackdown on the judiciary’s independence and the withering away of the right to a fair trial in the country.
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“The signatory associations warn against a dangerous instrumentalisation of justice for all litigants, whose ultimate bulwark against arbitrariness remains an independent judiciary, the only guarantor of a fair trial,” a joint statement said.
The groups called for a reinstatement of dismissed judges, an end to “executive interference in judicial affairs”, and respect for the fundamental right to a fair trial by an “independent and impartial tribunal”.
President Kais Saied’s deepening authoritarian shift since 2021 has included his dissolution of the High Judicial Council (HJC) on February 6, 2022 – a constitutional body mandated to guarantee the independence of the judiciary. He replaced it with a temporary council appointing all 21 members.
Additionally, on June 1 of last year, 57 judges and prosecutors were fired following accusations of financial and “moral” corruption and obstructing investigations. New provisions introduced by Saied meant a criminal prosecution was automatically initiated against them.
The judges and prosecutors challenged their dismissals last year with the Tunis administrative court – which ruled in favour of 49 – saying the actions taken against them were “a violation of the right to a fair trial”. But so far, the government has refused to comply with that ruling.
The organisations also condemned Saied’s move in July 2021 to change the constitution, which centralised power in his hands. That constitutional change led to the dissolution of the HJC, they said.
The groups highlighted the ongoing crackdown against dissidents in the country critical of Saied, stating between this and the “arbitrary” dismissal of the judges, “Tunisian justice can no longer, today, fully fulfill its role of guarantor of fundamental rights and freedoms”.
In February, Human Rights Watch released a report about the dismissals.
“These blows to judicial independence reflect the government’s determination to subjugate prosecutors and judges to the executive branch at the expense of Tunisians’ right to a fair trial before independent and impartial judges,” Salsabil Chellali, HRW’s Tunisia director, said at the time.