Lawyers held a protest in Tunisia's capital on Thursday to denounce a finance law introduced by the government.
The National Association of Lawyers described the 2023 Finance Law as “a heavy burden to citizens”.
The law was announced by Minister of Economy Samir Saied last month and went into effect on January 1. It raises taxes on companies, varying by sector, as well as on professionals such as doctors, lawyers and architects.
But lawyers criticised it as unjust and lacking the vision to lift the country out of its economic troubles.
“Lawyers will stand firm to protect our rights and freedom”, the head of the Tunisian Lawyers' Bar, Hatem Mziou, said in a speech outside the Tunis Justice Palace.
Tunisia is in the grip of a severe economic downturn, which has been worsened by political upheavals and the pandemic.
Subsidies for basic goods are expected to decrease by 30 per cent and fuel subsidies are set to be cut by 26 per cent this year, the Tunisian General Labour Union said.
The new measures, intended to meet conditions for an IMF loan, come as Tunisians are struggling in the face of shortages and rising prices, with the economy minister forecasting inflation to reach 10.5 per cent this year.
Mr Mziou called for the law to be reviewed as soon as possible.
“There’s a complete absence of justice for citizens, this new law seeks to further impoverish the citizen,” he said.
Mr Mziou said Tunisia was witnessing a setback to its democracy as well as freedoms under President Kais Saied, especially in light of the prosecutions aimed at opposing voices.
“We are not afraid to push back against any sort of authoritarianism and we will fight for a state where law is respected and the justice system is fair,” he said.
Mr Mziou said the lawyers' association was in talks with other organisations on the possibility of an inclusive national dialogue, which he said was still in its early stages.
“We are seeking to elaborate a political, social and economic solution to save the country and to be actual contributors,” he told reporters at the Justice Palace.
“We cannot keep watching, we want to contribute to finding a solution as we bear a shared responsibility towards this country.”
Mr Mziou urged the President to listen to national organisations and interact positively with their initiatives to save Tunisia from its current crisis.
Mohamed Ali Marzouki, a lawyer at the Tunis Appeal Court, said they wanted Mr Saied “to stop running away and to accept dialogue with us”.
The government needs to assume its responsibility with regards to the new finance law, as it will only make Tunisians’ lives harder with the level of austerity it imposes, Mr Marzouki told The National.
“Only 4 per cent of the current budget is dedicated for development, we cannot accept that. If the government does not respond to our call, we will escalate and declare tax disobedience,” he said.