Tunisia’s top judge, Youssef Bouzakher, has accused President Kais Saied of illegally impeding the independence of the judiciary by dissolving the Supreme Judicial Council on Sunday, and has warned that judges “will not remain silent”.
Saied announced the decision overnight, the latest move in his consolidation of power following the dismissal of the parliament and resignation of the prime minister in July and his promise to rewrite the democratic constitution, moves that his critics call coups.
The Supreme Judicial Council is one of the few state bodies that can still exert influence independently of Saied, who has been criticizing the judiciary for delays in ruling on corruption and terrorism cases for months.
The Supreme Judicial Council’s head Bouzakher was the first to publicly criticize Saied’s announcement, responding that it represents an attempt to bind judges to presidential instructions.
He called the president’s decision illegal and an assimilation of the presidency.
As a professor of constitutional law and a judge before running for president in 2019, Saied has consistently emphasized the judiciary should remember it represents the state rather than being its own entity.
In Earlier this year, he revoked financial privileges for the council’s members, accusing the independent group founded in 2016 of appointing judges to positions based on loyalty to its leadership.
“Their place is not where they sit now, but where the accused stand,” Saied said of the council members in his overnight speech, delivered from the building of the Interior Ministry, which oversees Tunisia’s security forces.
Several hundred people demonstrated against the council outside its HQ on Sunday. In contrast to a protest against the president in January that police dispersed in a rough manner, they erected barriers but did not confront demonstrators.
This long-planned protest was held on Sunday by the powerful labour union and other groups to mark the anniversary of Chokri Belaid’s assassination in 2013.
Secular Tunisians accuse politicians and judges of failing to properly investigate the killing, while some blame the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, a key part of successive governments, for blocking a full investigation.
In spite of having initially backed him as president, Ennahda has emerged as Saied’s most vocal opponent, even though it is the largest party in the suspended parliament.
During the council’s existence, a large number of judges obstructed the disclosure of the truth. After it disbands, judges with Ennahda affiliations will be thrown out, said Abdel Majid Belaid, Belaid’s brother, on Tunisian radio.
People want to clean up the judiciary, read a banner raised by protesters.
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