Tunisian lawyers protest against increasing restrictions on rights and freedoms

Protesters also denounced the deteriorating situation of the judiciary

Lawyers and activists gather on the steps of the Palace of Justice in Tunis during a protest in 2022. AP
Powered by automated translation

Lawyers held a protest in Tunisia’s capital Tunis on Thursday to denounce the growing restrictions affecting their work.

The protest, which coincided with a nationwide call for a one-day strike in Tunisian courts, condemned what protesters described as a growing clampdown on rights and freedoms in the country as well as deteriorating working conditions within the judicial facility.

“If lawyers today cannot defend themselves then how could they defend their clients,” the head of the Tunis division of Tunisia’s Lawyers Bar, Laroussi Zguir, said in a speech outside the Tunis Justice Palace.

“These restrictions have left the judiciary to be more dreadful than ever, and its only goal is to undermine people’s right to defence [right to have a lawyer defend you while standing for trial] and silence the voice of the legal profession,” he added.

According to Mr Zguir, more than 300 lawyers have been called for investigation in the past year alone. Some continue to be the subject of continuing trials while others have been given travel bans or face daily harassment.

Tunisia’s Lawyers Bar said that they will be taking escalatory measures if the Ministry of Justice does not respond to their demands.

Mr Zguir explained that these measures would include a boycott of any criminal hearings and procedures involving prosecutors and criminal judges.

Journalists were not allowed to enter the courthouse to cover the continuing protest, prompting lawyers to head out from their initial gathering point inside to the front of the Tunis Justice Palace.

Protesters chanted slogans such as “freedoms, freedoms, no to the Judiciary of instructions”, “freedoms, freedoms, the police state is over", and “no to the policy of intimidation”.

Since the Tunisian President Kais Saied’s consolidation of all branches of power in 2021, lawyers have experienced an increase in restrictions and persecutions.

Following Mr Saied’s constitutional referendum in 2022, the judiciary's status was downgraded from being an independent branch of power to another “public function", a move that lawyers considered an attempt from the government to manipulate and control the judiciary to serve its interests.

Updated: May 02, 2024, 5:11 PM