Plainclothes security officers in Tunisia detained a prominent critic of President Kais Saied in the early hours of Saturday after a military court ruling, his lawyer said.
Seifeddine Makhlouf had been found guilty of insulting police during a standoff at Tunis airport in March 2021.
Makhlouf, head of Islamist nationalist party Al-Karama, shouted “down with the coup” and “long live Tunisia” before being bundled into a car, according to a Facebook video posted by the lawyer.
Rights groups say military trials of civilians have become increasingly common in Tunisia since a power grab by Saied. Tunis military appeals court on Friday sentenced Makhlouf to 14 months in prison with immediate effect, his lawyer Ines Harrath said.
A court had initially sentenced him to five months’ jail.
“Around 25 officers in plainclothes surrounded his house at 11 p.m.,” Harrath said.
After a two-hour standoff, “they came into the house and he left with them.”
Makhlouf has been a prominent critic of Saied, who in July 2021 froze parliament and seized far-reaching executive powers in what critics have called a “coup” and an attack on the only democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings more than a decade ago.
The protests were organized by political groups in the country in collaboration with lawyers and judges who have also opposed the dismissal of 57 judges by President Kais Saied last year
Hundreds of people participated in a protest in front of the Tunis Court of First Instance on Tuesday, January 10, against the continued persecution and harassment of Ayachi Hammami, coordinator of the Committee for the Defense of Dismissed Judges. The government under President Kais Saied had dismissed 57 judges through a decree in June last year.
The protesters denounced the state intimidation and harassment of political dissidents under Saied’s rule, and demanded the restoration of the 57 judges who were dismissed.
Hammami was summoned to the court after he was accused last week of “spreading rumors with the aim of undermining the rights of others and harming public security” and “spreading misinformation,” according to TAP.
TAP reported that a case was filed against Hammami after his appearance in a radio show where he claimed that the judges dismissed last year were “wronged” by the government. He also alleged that the Ministry of Justice had “committed an offense” by not following court decisions.
President Saied had dismissed the 57 judges after alleging that they were indulging in corruption and sheltering people involved in terrorist activities. Saied claimed that the dismissal of the judges was part of his larger project of “political reform” to rid the country of corruption and inefficiency. Days before he sacked the judges, he had appointed himself as the head of a new watchdog with powers of appointing and dismissing judges without any opposition.
Speaking in the court, Hammami claimed that the case against him was “politically motivated” and revealed the state of freedom of expression and right to dissent in the country. He also accused President Saied of trying to take control over the Tunisian judiciary and reduce its powers, TAP reported.
Tunisia is experiencing a setback in the rule of law, democracy, rights and freedoms and the judiciary, said president of the Bar Association Hatem Meziou.
“Lawyers cannot turn a blind eye or remain idle, particularly in light of the set of decrees issued recently and the return to mass trials, he added at a lawyers’ rally Thursday in Tunis.
He reaffirmed the commitment of the Bar to stand against “the various forms of tyranny” and to stand by the people to build a democratic civil state based on the values of social justice, rights and freedoms and alternation in power.
Decree No. 54, which jeopardises rights and freedoms, cannot be tolerated or accepted, he added, condemning mass trials of lawyers, political and human rights activists and journalists.
“Lawyers are not afraid to take to the streets or to return to the struggle to defend a civil and democratic state where the law prevails, within the framework of a fair justice.»
The president of the lawyers’ association noted that courts still await a judiciary reshuffle. Many courthouses lack officials or public prosecutors, including the court of Tunis and the court of appeal, which remains without first president.
Des partis politiques ont dénoncé les poursuites judiciaires engagées à l’encontre des opposants politiques et des défenseurs de droits de l’homme, suite au renvoi du Coordonnateur du Comité de défense des magistrats révoqués, Ayachi Hamami, devant l’instruction au sens du décret-loi n° 54.
Plusieurs dirigeants du Front de salut national devraient également comparaitre devant la justice sur fond de plainte déposée par la cheffe du Parti destourien libre Abir Moussi.
Ayachi Hammami avait annoncé avoir été informé de sa citation devant l’instruction, au sens du décret-loi n°54 sur fond d’accusations de ” diffusion de fausses rumeurs dans le but de porter atteinte aux droits d’autrui et de porter préjudice à la sureté publique ” et ” d’attribution de données infondées visant à diffamer les autres “.
L’article 24 dudit décret-loi prévoit une peine de cinq ans d’emprisonnement assortie d’une amende de 50 000 dinars, portée au double si la personne visée est un agent public ou assimilé.
De son côté, le mouvement Ennahdha a dénoncé la convocation devant l’instruction de plusieurs dirigeants du Front de salut national ainsi que des hommes politiques qui s’opposent au président Kais Saied, dont l’ancien président Moncef Marzouki, Jawhar Ben M’barak, Shaima Issa, le Coordonnateur du Comité de défense des magistrats révoqués, Ayachi Hamami, Abederrazek Kilani, Lazhar Akremi et des journalistes et de blogueurs.
La chambre pénale auprès de la Cour d’appel militaire a décidé d’abandonner l’affaire contre l’ancien bâtonnier Abderrazek Kilani pour “non compétence”, annulant ainsi le verdict en première instance, condamnant Abderrazek Kilani à un mois de prison.
Suite à l’abandon de la Cour d’appel, le parquet militaire a décidé le pourvoi en cassation à l’encontre de l’ancien bâtonnier, rapporte Mosaïque fm.
Abderrazek Kilani, a été condamné à un mois de prison avec sursis, par la Chambre correctionnelle du Tribunal militaire permanent de Tunis en mai dernier pour “outrage à un fonctionnaire public lors de l’exercice de ses fonctions”.
Une instruction judiciaire avait été ouverte, par le parquet miliaire, suite à la dispute de l’ancien bâtonnier des avocats, avec des agents chargés de surveiller Noureddine Bhiri, alors assigné à résidence à l’hôpital Habib Bougatfa à Bizerte.
Cette affaire remonte à mars 2022 lorsque Abderrazak Kilani, membre du comité de défense du dirigeant d’Ennahdha et ancien ministre de la Justice était alors en résidence surveillée pour soupçons dans une affaire terroriste.
Lawyers for Lawyers, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, The Law Society of England and Wales and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute are concerned about the arbitrary prosecution of Hayet Eljazer and Ayoub Ghedamsi. Mrs Eljazer and Mr. Ghedamsi have been charged with “insulting a public official from the justice system” in connection to their legitimate professional activities. We call on the Tunisian authorities to immediately halt the criminal prosecution of the lawyers.
Hayet Eljazer and Ayoub Ghedamsi are both members of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LTDH). They have represented many human rights defenders and worked on cases related to police violence and torture.
Hayet Eljazer and Ayoub Ghedamsi are charged with “insulting a public official from the justice system” according to articles 125 and 126 of the Penal Code. The charges against the lawyers are connected to their representation of a 67-year-old man and his son in a case concerning their ill-treatment, kidnapping and torture. According to the information received, the charges are based on a complaint filed by a Carthage District judge on 30 April 2020 against the two lawyers regarding their request to defer a case to another court due to a lack of impartiality, violation of due process and the concealment of violations of their clients’ rights. The reason for the Judge’s, complaint was that the lawyers presented evidence that their clients were forced to say that they had not been disappeared or tortured at a secret hearing without the presence of their lawyers.
On Wednesday 12 October 2022, the first hearing in the case against Hayet Eljazer and Ayoub Ghedamsi took place. 250 lawyers, including representatives from the Tunis Bar were present at court to show solidarity with the two lawyers. The next hearing is yet to be scheduled. If the lawyers are convicted and sentenced, they would face between two months and six years of imprisonment.
Les plaidoiries devant la Cour d’appel militaire de Tunis se poursuivent dans l’affaire intentée contre l’ancien bâtonnier des avocats, Abderrazek Kilani, a déclaré Ridha Belhaj, membre de son comité de défense.
Le verdict est prévu ultérieurement, a-t-il déclaré, ce vendredi, à la TAP, précisant que le collectif de défense a réclamé l’annulation du procès et le prononcé d’un non lieu.
“Des avocats tunisiens et étrangers, ainsi que des activistes des droits de l’Homme étaient présents à l’audience de ce vendredi”, a-t-il indiqué.
Kilani a, aussi, rappelé que l’ancien bâtonnier, qui a pris sa propre défense, avait affirmé que la discussion qu’il a eue avec les agents de sécurité devant l’hôpital Habib Bougatfa, à Bizerte, où était admis son client Noureddine Bhiri, dirigeant au Mouvement Ennahdha, “était légale”.
“L’échange a été mené, dans le respect des règles de courtoisie”, s’est-il défendu, niant avoir incité les forces de sécurité à la désobéissance.
Pour rappel, le 30 septembre, le juge d’instruction près la Cour d’appel militaire a décidé de reporter l’examen de l’affaire contre l’ancien bâtonnier des avocats, Abderrazek Kilani, à ce 28 octobre, à la demande de la défense.
Kilani est poursuivi pour avoir prononcé des “paroles, gestes ou menaces”, le rendant coupable “d’outrage à un fonctionnaire public, ou assimilé, dans l’exercice ou à l’occasion de l’exercice de ses fonctions”, suite à un échange verbal avec des membres des forces de sécurité, le 2 janvier 2022, devant l’hôpital Habib Bougatfa de Bizerte.
Le collectif de défense de l’ancien bâtonnier Kilani avait fait appel de cette décision, en mai dernier, arguant du motif de “l’incompétence du Tribunal militaire à statuer dans l’affaire” et que Abderrazek Kilani était, “lors de l’incident précité, en mesure d’exercer ses fonctions d’avocat, en rendant visite à son client à l’hôpital.”
Tunisia is preparing for a constitutional referendum set to take place on July 25, 2022, exactly one year after the country’s President Kais Saied set the country on an alarming trajectory. This explainer unpacks how Saied has spent the last year dismantling the independence of the judicial and legislative branches and expanding his executive authority, and details how he threatens to make permanent these steps in a new constitution.
One year of Saied’s ‘state of exception’
On July 25, 2021, Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspended the activities of the Assembly of the Representatives, and lifted parliamentary immunity; on July 29, he issued Presidential Decree No. 2021-80 to formalize these steps. Thereafter, he stated that he would head the executive branch alongside a new prime minister, who was eventually announced to be Najla Bouden.
On September 22, 2021, Saied declared that he would rule by decree virtue of Presidential Decree No. 2021-117 which suspended major constitutional articles and reaffirmed the previously-announced measures subverting parliamentary privileges. This step gave the president the right to rule by decree over various areas including the judiciary, the military, civil society associations, and political parties while exempting him from judicial review. Since then, Saied’s legislative and executive powers have continued to grow exponentially in the face of undermined oversight mechanisms.
These developments occurred as Saied planted the seeds for a “new political roadmap” that was rooted in a national narrative of fighting corruption and conspiracy, and holding “traitors” to account. As he did so, he declared that the 2014 constitution would no longer be valid and that the new roadmap would be based on “legal solutions” grounded in “the will and sovereignty of the Tunisian people.”
One of the steps to translate Saied’s vision into reality became the National Consultation Process, which took place between January 1 and March 20, 2022 and served as a stepping stone for the political and electoral reforms that were to come. The consultation proposed a series of questions, with specific pre-drafted answers regarding electoral, political, economic, educational, and social issues for eligible Tunisians to select from. Despite the fact that the consultation engaged only 508,000 participants, Saied declared the process a success and proceeded with his plan to implement its alleged input into next steps. Observers and experts critiqued the consultation for its low participation and methodology which resulted in unequal representation, particularly with regards to gender and region. Head of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) Noureddine Taboubi condemned the failure to inclusively involve national actors from the beginning of the consultation. In its latest urgent opinion, the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe that is composed of constitutional law experts, found fault in the president’s roadmap more generally and cast doubt over the possibility of arriving at a “constitutional synthesis” with a consultation that “ did not give rise to widespread popular support, as participation remained very little.”
In a step that further ate away at checks and balances more generally, on February 12, 2022, Saied dissolved the Higher Judicial Council (HJC) via Decree No. 2022-11. The HJC had been promulgated in the 2014 constitution and was the highest judicial oversight body in the state. Saied’s decree replaced the HJC with a Provisional High Judicial Council, retaining the same composition of the HJC, though altering the number of judges and the appointment process, and empowering the president to act as a disciplinary power and request removal of members. These changes tightened the executive branch’s control over the judiciary and expanded the president’s powers and influence. Months later, Saied would amend Decree No. 2022-11 with Decree No. 2022-35 on June 1, 2022, giving him the power to dismiss judges if they harmed the independence or the integrity of the judiciary; the amendments paved the way for the sacking of 57 judges, per Presidential Order No. 315-2022.
Key takeaways from the constitution
Consistent with the unilateral approach that Saied has taken in setting forward the political roadmap and constitutional drafting process detailed above, the latest version of the draft constitution that Tunisians are set to vote on incorporates Saied’s narrative into the preamble. It claims that July 25, 2021 was a “correction of the Revolution’s path and that of history,” and that it will enable the country to move into a “new phase in history”—an expression Saied has used multiple times in his remarks and rhetoric. The preamble refers to the national consultation process and inflates its legitimacy, stating that “hundreds of thousands of citizens” participated.
Most significantly, Saied’s draft constitution seeks to create what has been described as a “hyper-presidentialist” system, where the president has extensive executive and legislative authorities, with little checks over them. The draft grants the president executive powers found in presidential systems, while also affording him legislative powers typically enjoyed by the head of government in parliamentary systems. While Tunisia’s 2014 constitution distributed these powers between the head of government and the president in a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, Saied’s draft seeks to concentrate them, not only making the president the most consequential actor in policymaking, but also making him omnipotent, in a manner similar to the 1959 constitution.
Saied’s draft eliminates parliament’s ability to vote to impeach the president prior to adjudication by the Constitutional Court, as had been set forth by the 2014 constitution. Moreover, while the government had previously been accountable to parliament under the 2014 constitution, this draft makes the government accountable to the president, who will also enjoy the authority to appoint and dismiss the head of government and other government ministers. The new draft keeps the infamous Article 80 of the 2014 constitution—which Saied relied on to declare emergency measures under a state of exception. However, the provision is now found in the form of Article 96, which eliminates the temporal deadline to lift these emergency measures and the Constitutional Court’s ability to rule on the validity of said-measures. In eliminating these safeguards, Saied makes the provision identical to Article 46 of the 1959 constitution and further expands the president’s authorities
Also similar to the 1959 constitution, Article 116 of the new draft stipulates that in case of a second vote of no-confidence against the government, the president has the right to accept the government’s resignation or dissolve one or both chambers of parliament. Although parliament in theory can still pass a vote of no-confidence against the government—albeit with difficulty as it requires a two-third majority of both chambers—its oversight power has been further constrained alongside the president’s expanded authority.
In the new draft constitution, the president enjoys expansive legislative powers at the expense of a severely-weakened parliament. He has the authority to suggest draft bills, as well as the authority to issue decrees that enjoy the force of law during parliamentary recess periods or when parliament is dissolved. The draft stipulates that the president can also call for legislative and constitutional referendums without prior parliamentary approval. On the flip side, while parliament does enjoy the authority to draw up bills that are supported by a minimum of 10 MPs, it cannot pass legislation that touches on the president’s administrative powers or on financial issues. Important to note that until a sitting parliament is elected, Saied will continue to enjoy the legislative power that he has been exercising vigorously.
While the new constitution establishes the National Assembly for Regions and Districts as the second chamber of parliament, it does away with an entire chapter on decentralization, previously present in the 2014 constitution and heralded at the time as an important success. The draft instead stipulates that local governance will further be expanded on in the law, leaving the matter outside of the constitution and raising concerns that the president may further weaken local powers, including through future amendments to the Local Authorities Code and the Electoral Law.
The draft constitution also curtails the powers of the judiciary. It eliminates the single Higher Judicial Council that was elected and tasked to manage all types of judicial jurisdictions, and replaces it instead with three higher councils that will oversee each type of jurisdiction individually—the details of which will be left to the law; it does not guarantee their independence. Leaving this to the law, rather than protecting judicial independence at the constitutional level, creates concern that the judiciary’s role will be even further weakened down the line and its independence, further compromised. The draft dedicates a chapter to the Constitutional Court, separating it from that of the remainder of the judiciary, and changes its composition. Unlike the 2014 constitution, under which the Constitutional Court was selected by the Higher Judicial Council, parliament, and the president and was composed of judges and professors from different fields, the draft creates a court composed only of appointed judges based on seniority.
The draft constitution does away with a number of independent entities created by the 2014 constitution to act as safeguards for rights and freedom by establishing additional oversight over state institutions. The draft keeps only the Independent High Authority for Elections, albeit without specifying whether its members will be elected by parliament as had previously been the case. Though the draft does recognize and protect individual rights and freedoms, an unusually-constructed Article 5 sets forth the state as the sole entity responsible “to work, in the context of a democratic system, to fulfill the “maqasid [purposes] of Islam,” raising concerns about the state’s role in interpreting religion and on how this will manifest in practice. Civil society organizations have also raised concerns about the draft’s failure to explicitly prohibit the military trial of civilians.
Ultimately, Saied’s constitution threatens to enshrine a system of governance in which the president enjoys expansive and in many cases, unchecked authorities, while the legislature and judiciary become seriously constrained, functioning with limited, if any, independence and autonomy. The draft is a reflection of a process that has lacked transparency, inclusivity, and accountability since day one and that threatens to formalize the actions that were taken in an alleged “state of exception,” grounding Tunisia and the Tunisian people further in an alarming and undemocratic pathway.
President Kais Saied proposed a new constitution this month that would limit the role of parliament and boost his own rule. The constitution will be put to a referendum on July 25 in a vote most political parties have already rejected. Our team on the ground reports.
Three judges in Tunisia have staged a hunger strike in protest against President Kais Saied’s decision to sack 57 judges, including them, Anadolu News Agency reported.
This came in a statement read out on Wednesday by Hammadi Rahmani, one of the three striking judges, in the capital, Tunis.
The judges on hunger strike are Rahmani, Ramzi Bahria and Mohamed Taher Kanzari.
The judges demanded that all dismissed judges return to their posts and called for the opening of an administrative investigation into the circumstances that led to choosing the list of the sacked judges, with the aim of liquidating judges known for their independence, integrity and competence.
They also stressed on the need to “restore the constitutional path of the judiciary, adhere to the principle of separation of powers and stop interfering in the judiciary”.
Earlier on Wednesday, four former heads of the Tunisian Bar Association called, in a statement to President Saied, to reverse the dismissal decision, affirming their support for the judges in their protest movements “in defence of their independence”.
On Saturday, the Judges’ Association decided to extend their national strike for a third week in protest against Saied’s decision to sack dozens of them.
Saied dismissed 57 judges on 1 June, accusing them of corruption and protecting terrorists – charges that the Tunisian Judges’ Association said were mostly politically motivated.