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Tunisian Judges Protest on Anniversary of Colleagues' Sacking

FILE - Tunisian judges and lawyers gather in a protest calling upon authorities for independence in the judicial system, in Tunis on June 1, 2023.

TUNIS — Tunisia's Magistrates Association marked the one-year anniversary of President Kais Saied firing more than 50 judges by protesting against presidential control of the judicial system, degradation of the rule of law, and the imprisonment of judges.

Judge Anas Hmedi, president of the Magistrates Association, led the protest by the judges at the Palace of Justice in the center of Tunis.

"Today we are marking one year since 57 judges were sacked by the president!," Hmedi protested with her fellow judges.

On June 1, 2022, President Saied dismissed the judges and 13 came under investigation on allegations of corruption, including a female judge charged with adultery.

Six weeks later, Saied changed the constitution, bringing the judiciary and justice system under his control.

Despite Tunisia's Court of Administration ruling in favor of the judges and ordering that they be reinstated, the president has refused to comply.

This protest comes one day after a judge opened yet more investigations into some 20 of Saied’s alleged political opponents, including Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi, already serving a one-year sentence for "glorifying terrorism," former Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, and former Saied chief of staff Nadia Akacha.

Judge Raoutha Khalifa explained that working conditions for judges are worse than ever, claiming they’re being bullied and used as pawns in a political game they never asked to play.

"Judges are under so much pressure now. They are afraid; really we are being terrorized. We want a return to normal judicial process, equitable trials under the rule of law," Khalifa told VOA.

The protesting judges say they are being pressured to work according to the president's wishes to open investigations and try cases that are political in nature.

Along with calling for a free judiciary and the return to the rule of law, the protesting judges are also demanding release of Judge Bechir Akremi, who was arrested and imprisoned for alleged involvement in the assassination of politician Chokri Belaid in 2013. His wife was present, holding a poster with his photograph.

After the democratic revolution in 2011, the constitution of 2014 made the judiciary an independent authority. The judges want a return to that principle: to be a self-regulating power and judge according to the law.

Saied shut down the previous elected parliament in July 2021, moving to rule by decree and introduced policies that reduce any checks and balances on his power by the parliament or the courts.

Opposition parties have called the move a "constitutional coup."