6, February 2022
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.
Saied has broadened his grip on power since July 25, when he sacked the government and froze parliament before moving to rule by decree in Tunisia — the cradle of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings that ousted a series of autocratic leaders.
Many Tunisians 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 expected to spark further unease, Saied early Sunday 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.
He accused the CSM, an independent constitutional body set up in 2016 to guarantee the good functioning and independence of the judiciary, of serving political interests.
“In this council, positions and appointments are sold and made according to affiliations,” said the head of state.
“You cannot imagine the money that certain judges have been able to receive, billions and billions,” he added.
Observers 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 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.
The Islamic State group claimed both killings, while Ennahdha, which has denounced Saied’s power grab as a “coup”, has been accused by many of blocking the investigations.
“Unfortunately, in this country, some judges in the courts have manipulated the Chokri Belaid case,” said Saied in the video.
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 called on the president to dissolve the CSM in order to “purge” the judiciary of “corrupt magistrates”.
Saied has called on supporters to “protest freely” later Sunday, when a demonstration is also due to be held to mark the ninth anniversary of Belaid’s murder.
Protesters are expected to rally outside the Tunis headquarters of the CSM.
Saied — who has also already called for a July referendum on constitutional reforms — said on Sunday he was working “on a provisional decree” to reorganise the judicial watchdog.
“One of the key rights of Tunisians is to know the truth,” he said in a statement.
Tunisians, he said, are entitled “to have a just judicial system whose conduct is overseen by judges who only implement the law”.
The CSM had been already targeted last month by Saied, when he stripped its members of social and financial benefits, including fuel subsidies, transport and living allowances.
Created in 2016, the watchdog has 45 members, two thirds of whom are judges elected by parliament, who in turn chose the remaining third.
Raoudha Karafi, honorary president of the Tunisian association of judges, has been among critics of Saied’s power grab.
She has criticised Saied in recent press remarks of seeking to undermine the independence of the judiciary, saying: “Justice is a red line.”