A SPOTLIGHT ON HUMAN RIGHTS REGRESSION IN TUNISIA UNDER PRESIDENT SAIED’S FIRST YEAR OF POWER GRAB


President Kais Saied’s verbal attacks on the judiciary materialized into decree laws that undermined the independence of the judiciary and fair trial rights in Tunisia. Moreover, the draft constitution issued by the authorities on 30 June aligns with the president’s vision of the justice system as mere function of the state and not a separate, independent power with strong guarantees to protect it from government interference. The draft constitution enables the president to appoint judges by presidential decree as well opens the door for the government to undertake disciplinary procedures against judges instead of giving that prerogative exclusively to an independent institution.  This vision of the judiciary is reminiscent of how it functioned under Tunisia’s former dictator Ben Ali when judges and prosecutors were subject to his approval and influence.

After Ben Ali’s ouster in 2011, Tunisian authorities created the High Judicial Council (HJC), to supervise the careers of magistrates and act as a bulwark against the executives interference. A little over ten years later, President Saied unilaterally dissolved the HJC. On 5 February 2022, following months of accusing the judiciary of corruption and negligence, he announced, in a videotaped speech at the Interior Ministry, that the High Judicial Council “should consider itself a part of the past as of this moment.” procedures.

I cannot tell you which of the accusations relate to me and I won’t be able to as long as I am not charged with anything. I suspect that it is because of my writings and activities to protest the steps taken by the president and government to undermine the independence of the judiciary

Hamadi Rahmani

On 12 February 2021, Saied issued Decree-Law 2022-11, dissolving the council, replacing it with a new, temporary council, and granting himself considerable sway over judicial careers and disciplinary

On 1 June 2022, Saied tightened his control over the judiciary even further by issuing Decree-Law 2022-35, amending Decree-Law 2022-11, which gives the president the authority to fire judges and prosecutors at will. Under Decree-Law 2022-35, being fired by the president triggers criminal prosecution for the alleged misconduct in question. On the same day, a decree was published in the official gazette with the names of 57 judges whom President Saied had arbitrarily dismissed.

On June 10, Amnesty International and ten rights groups denounced President Saied’s repeated attacks on the judiciary and called on him to revoke Decree-Law 2022-35.  

Three of the 57 judges summarily fired by President Saied started a hunger strike on 22 June to protest their dismissal and protect the independence of the judiciary. Hamadi Rahmani is among the three judges who were on hunger strike. He is a magistrate counsellor at the court of cassation in Tunis and a vocal critic of President Saied’s decisions regarding the judiciary.

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