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Protests in Tunisia as president tightens grip on judiciary

February 13, 2022

Thousands of Tunisians have demonstrated in the capital after President Kais Saied granted himself new judicial powers in a decree. Saied can now unilaterally fire and block appointments of judges.

Demonstrators gather during a protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis
Some Tunisians believe President Kais Saied's latest moves are endangering the country's nascent democracyImage: Hassene Dridi/AP Photo/picture alliance

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Tunisia on Sunday, following a controversial presidential decree published in the early hours.

President Kais Saied has given himself powers over the judiciary by establishing a new judicial watchdog which allows him to fire judges and block promotions and appointments.

Tunisia analyst Mariam Salehi speaks to DW

Protesters demand judicial independence

Around 2000 people demonstrated in the capital Tunis after the president's order, with many waving flags and shouting slogans.

Protesters carried signs with one reading "don't touch the judiciary!" while another read "save our democracy!"

Youssef Bouzakher, who is head of the now-defunct Supreme Council, described the decree as "unconstitutional that ends guarantees of the independence of the judiciary."

Saied said Thursday that he would issue the decree which effectively dissolves the Superior Council of the Judiciary. This is the main legal body overseeing judges and one of the last remaining institutions working independently of Saied.

The announcement led to judges and lawyers protesting outside the Palace of Justice. The new decree also bars members of the judiciary from taking part in protest action.

Judges and lawyers gather to protest President of Tunisia, Kais Saied's decision to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council
The decree effectively dissolves the main legal body that has oversight of the judiciary, a move that brought judges and lawyers onto the streets to protest earlier in the weekImage: Yassine Gaidi /AA/picture alliance

Decree could 'end democratic experiment'

A "Temporary Supreme Judicial Council" consisting of  21 members will be established. Nine of the members must be appointed by the president, and they will have to swear "to preserve the independence of the judiciary."

Said Benarbia, the regional director of the International Commission of Jurists, told AFP news agency that the decree "enshrines the subordination of the judiciary to the executive".

"If implemented, it would effectively end judicial independence and the separation of powers in Tunisia, and with it, the democratic experiment in the country," Bernabia said.

Last July, Tunisia was plunged into a constitutional crisis when Saied suspended the country's parliament, dismissed the sitting prime minister and granted himself executive powers.

He said that the "exceptional measures" were intended to save Tunisia from collapse.
Supporters welcomed his moves, describing Tunisia's whole political system as corrupt. Critics say he is leading the country toward authoritarian rule.

kb/wd (AFP, Reuters)