Kais Saied replaces Tunisia's top judicial body

Thousands protest as president gives himself new powers over judges

Protesters in Tunis on Sunday after President Kais Saied replaced the Supreme Judicial Council. AFP
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Thousands of Tunisians protested on Sunday after President Kais Saied officially replaced the country's judicial watchdog and gave himself powers to sack judges and ban them from going on strike.

Hours after Mr Saied's decree was published on Sunday morning, more than 2,000 protesters gathered in central Tunis, many waving flags and chanting slogans in support of an independent judiciary.

“Freedom! Freedom! The police state is finished,” some chanted.

Quote
It is forbidden for judges of all ranks to go on strike or hold any organised collective action that could disturb or delay the normal working of the courts
Presidential decree

Mr Saied's decree came a week after he said he would dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council, prompting a nationwide shutdown of courts by judges who said the move would infringe on judicial independence.

The decree, establishing a new 21-member “Temporary Supreme Judicial Council” — nine of whom are appointed by the president — also gives him powers to dismiss “any judge failing to do his professional duties".

“It is forbidden for judges of all ranks to go on strike or hold any organised collective action that could disturb or delay the normal working of the courts,” the decree reads.

Mr Saied last July sacked the government, suspended Parliament and seized a range of powers before moving to rule by decree, sparking fears for the country's democratic system established after autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in 2011.

The president had long accused the judicial council of blocking politically sensitive investigations and being influenced by the Islamist-inspired Ennahda party.

He has insisted he has no intention of interfering with the judiciary, but rights groups and world powers have criticised his move.

On Thursday, the council said in a statement that it “totally rejects the use of decrees to infringe on the constitutional structure of the judiciary” and that any alternative would have no legal basis.

Mr Saied's actions in July were welcomed by many Tunisians tired of political parties seen as corrupt and self-serving, but his critics accuse him of moving the country back towards autocracy.

Updated: February 14, 2022, 7:54 AM
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