Tunisia’s judges go on starvation strike to protest Kais Saied’s assaults on democracy


TUNIS — On his thirty third day with out meals, Decide Mohamed Tahar Kanzari lay curled on a mattress on the bottom, a floral sheet masking his frail physique.

“This is the only peaceful manner in which to voice ourselves,” he whispered, his voice straining from exhaustion. “There is no other way. This is the only peaceful and legal way — to put your life on the line.”

Three days later, a medical crew assessed Kanzari’s situation as so dire he needed to be transported to a hospital. He’s at the moment in an intensive care unit, however is continuous his strike.

Kanzari, a juvenile courtroom decide, is protesting being dismissed from his publish final month after President Kais Saied issued a decree on June 1 that gave himself the ability to fireplace judges. Kanzari was amongst 57 judges abruptly dismissed and accused of being corrupt or defending terrorists.

The legislation professor who got down to dismantle Tunisia’s democracy

Authorized consultants say the choice seems to be a part of a politically motivated effort to undermine the independence of the nation’s judiciary and guarantee Saied’s rising grip on energy in a rustic as soon as celebrated because the area’s sole democratic success story.

The president stated in a speech that the mass dismissal got here after he had “given opportunity after opportunity and warning after warning to the judiciary to purify itself.”

Kanzari is considered one of a number of of the dismissed Tunisian judges to since launch starvation strikes and demand the speedy reversal of the decree, a very uncommon act of protest for any decide wherever on the earth. The starvation strike was launched after judges first spent weeks on a broad common strike, wherein they suspended their work in courts.

The 2 different judges at the moment on strike have been additionally hospitalized on Thursday. One was later launched. They’re additionally persevering with their strike regardless of the decline of their bodily situation.

Diego García-Sayán, the U.N. particular rapporteur on the independence of judges and legal professionals, stated he’s not conscious of judges in another nation having ever participated in such a starvation strike, underlining the seriousness of Tunisian judges’ concern over the destiny of their nation’s judiciary.

It is not uncommon apply amongst authoritarians, he stated, to pay attention “their efforts on attacking the judiciary, controlling the supreme court and dismissing judges.”

Poland and Hungary are two of essentially the most distinguished instances the place the chief department has been accused of systematically stripping away protections from the judiciary or selecting government-aligned judges — incomes rebukes from the European Union.

“One of the key elements of democracy is an independent judiciary,” García-Sayán stated, “not as a right just for judges, but mainly as a right for society.”

The U.N. watchdog has voiced his considerations over threats to Tunisia’s judiciary independence and has been ready a number of months to enter Tunisia on a proper go to that will permit it to analyze the scenario. Such a go to is required with a view to write an official report back to current to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Tunisia is the one democracy that got here out of the Arab Spring. Beneath the previous strongman president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the judiciary lacked independence and was largely managed by the chief department of the federal government. The nation’s post-revolution structure ensured checks and balances by strengthening the independence of the judiciary and establishing a newly impartial Excessive Judicial Council tasked with overseeing judges’ affairs.

Then, final summer time, amid political infighting and complaints over the ineffectiveness of the nation’s lawmakers, Saied suspended parliament and fired the prime minister.

Some instantly decried the transfer as an illegal coup. Others, pissed off by years of political gridlock, celebrated it as a courageous step to weed out unproductive politicians they blamed for the financial and social woes that had lengthy plagued the nation.

However the suspension of parliament was quickly adopted by different controversial strikes, together with the dissolving of the impartial Excessive Judicial Council and later the firing of the judges. Saied’s actions indicated a scarcity of perception within the separation of powers enshrined within the 2014 structure and desire for all of the branches of the federal government to be subordinate to him.

Most lately, a brand new structure written by Saied himself handed in a referendum held Monday the place lower than a 3rd of the eligible voters participated.

“The judiciary is the only remaining check on executive power in Tunisia,” the Worldwide Fee of Jurists warned in a press release previous to the referendum.

The judges have been waging their very own battle in opposition to what they are saying is the dismantling of the system of checks and balances vital for a functioning democracy.

Mentioned Benarbia, director of the Center East and North Africa area for the Worldwide Fee of Jurists, stated the June decree and Kanzari and others’ dismissals is simply a part of “the smear campaign that the president launched from the beginning about how the judiciary is corrupt and judges are corrupt.”

Of the 57 judges dismissed on June 1, he stated, solely a handful have had any instances filed in opposition to them that may contain severe allegations.

Youssef Bouzakher, who was dismissed from Tunisia’s highest courtroom of appeals and was president of the Excessive Judicial Council, stated the president has to say on what grounds the judges have been fired.

“If they do not publish the accusations, then these accusations do not exist, so this decree should be rolled back,” he stated.

The abrupt dismissals have created a tradition of intimidation amongst different judges who worry that they too could also be dismissed with out respectable trigger or warning, stated Anas Hmedi, 50, president of the Affiliation of Tunisian Magistrates.

The judges on starvation strikes have been sleeping on the ground of the Judges’ Membership in Tunis, a constructing that sometimes hosts conferences and different occasions however remodeled right into a makeshift ward. They’ve had common physician visits, and so they monitor their blood stress and oxygen ranges themselves in case of medical emergencies.

“It’s our duty [to help them],” Hmedi stated. “Kais Saied’s regime did not anticipate this; he thought Tunisian magistrates would drop it and would align with his regime…He was shocked and stunned not only by the resistance, but by the level of resistance.”

“He’s the only decider of everything,” Aicha Benbelhassen, 39, vp of the Affiliation of Tunisian Magistrates, stated of Saied. “We have no guarantee and no possibility to have our rights without this hunger strike or general strike.”

Kais Sabbehi, a decide who was additionally dismissed in June, joined the strike in July and has spent the previous three weeks sleeping on a mattress on the ground close to Kanzari.

He has gone with out meals for greater than three weeks, is experiencing excessive fatigue, abdomen issues and insomnia however stated he’ll proceed his strike till additional discover. Like Kanzari, he was hospitalized and despatched to the intensive care unit on Thursday evening. He’s affected by extreme kidney malfunction, Benbelhassen stated.

He has two youngsters who he stated are watching his strike “with a lot of anxiety,” he stated previous to his hospitalization. However the solidarity of his fellow judges — each these engaged within the starvation strike and others who’re providing different types of help have stored him motivated.

“The Tunisian revolution was the pride of the Arab world,” he stated. “I could never have imagined this backsliding. … I could never have imagined finding myself in this situation.”

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