Tunisian president dissolves top judicial watchdog alleging bias

3. Tunisia
People chant slogans as they gather for a demonstration in the capital Tunis on February 6, 2022, marking the anniversary of the assassination of Tunisian leftist politician Chokri Belaid, who was shot outside his house in 2013. (Photo: AFP)
TUNIS — Tunisian President Kais Saied on Sunday dissolved a top independent judicial watchdog accusing it of bias, the latest controversial move since he sacked the government last year.اضافة اعلان

Saied has broadened his grip on power since July 25 when he sacked the government and froze parliament before later moving to rule by decree in Tunisia — the cradle of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that ousted a series of autocratic leaders.

Many in the North African nation welcomed his moves against a political system described as corrupt and ineffective, in the only democracy to have emerged from the revolts.

But political figures and rights groups have warned of a slide towards authoritarianism, and world leaders have expressed deep concern.

In a move sparking further unease, Saied announced he was dissolving the Supreme Judicial Council (CSM) during a meeting with government ministers.

The council "is a thing of the past", he said according to video footage released by the Tunisian presidency.

Saied accused the CSM of serving political interests.

The independent constitutional body was set up in 2016 to guarantee the good functioning and independence of the judiciary. 

"In this council, positions and appointments are sold and made according to affiliations," the head of state said.

"You cannot imagine the money that certain judges have been able to receive, billions and billions," Saied added.

'Illegal and unconstitutional'

Analysts and political opponents say the government is seeking to clamp down on the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which has controlled parliament and the various governments since the 2011 revolution toppled veteran leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

The International Commission of Jurists said the president's corruption accusations were "unfounded".

The CSM "has defended the independence of the judiciary" and "any decree to dissolve it is illegal and unconstitutional," it said.

"Its dissolution would mean the end of the separation of powers," the Geneva-based rights body added.

Ennahdha spokesman Imed Khemiri denounced the decision, which he said "touches on the independence of the judiciary."

It is "a grave precedent that Tunisia never had to submit to, even in the time of the dictator" Ben Ali, Khemiri told AFP.

The president accused the CSM of corruption and of delaying politically sensitive investigations into the 2013 assassinations of left-wing opposition figures Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.

Daesh claimed both killings, while Ennahdha, which denounced Saied's power grab as a "coup", has been accused by many of blocking the investigations.

Belaid was shot three times outside his home in February 2013, and Brahmi was killed in similar circumstances in July the same year.

The "July 25 movement" — composed of Saied supporters — on Saturday had called on the president to dissolve the CSM in order to "purge" the judiciary of "corrupt magistrates".

The CSM has 45 members, two thirds of whom are judges elected by parliament. They, in turn, chose the remaining third.

Saied last month stripped its members of transport and living allowances.

'Fair and independent'

Saied — who has also already called for a July referendum on constitutional reforms — said on Sunday he was working "on a provisional decree" to reorganize the judicial watchdog.

Tunisians, he said in a statement, are entitled "to have a just judicial system whose conduct is overseen by judges who only implement the law".

Ibrahim Bouderbala, president of the National Bar Association, welcomed the move.

"As soon as the decree is published, we will react positively", Bouderbala said.

The judiciary "which has not been capable of reforming itself or of deciding major cases provided an ideal occasion" for Saied to again bang his fist on the table, analyst Abdellatif Hannachi said.

Rallies on Sunday in the capital Tunis commemorated the ninth anniversary of Belaid's assassination. Hundreds of protesters demanding "fair and independent justice" chanted slogans backing the president.

Belaid's brother Abdelmajid also supported Saied's decision, accusing Ennahdha of having "manipulated and slowed down" the case.

"Until we have dissolved the CSM we will never have the truth", he said.

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