Tunisian court halts presidential dismissal of judges

A view shows an empty courtroom during a strike by Tunisian judges in a protest against a purge of their ranks, in Tunis, Tunisia.

A Tunisian court has halted President Kais Saied’s dismissal of around 50 judges, a lawyer said on Wednesday, underscoring the continued independence of courts despite Saied’s moves to assume wider authority over the judiciary.

Saied dismissed 57 judges on June 1, accusing them of corruption and protecting terrorists – charges that the Tunisian Judges’ Association said were mostly politically motivated.

The lawyer, Kamel Ben Massoud, said that the Tunis administrative court had rejected the appeals of at least seven judges but blocked the dismissal of the others, pending a final ruling by a higher court.

Saied last month pushed through a new constitution through a referendum giving himself nearly unchecked powers, which his critics say will spawn one-man rule and the end of meaningful democracy.

The constitution has given him ultimate authority over both the government and judicial appointments, while making the parliament largely toothless.

The moves, which Saied and supporters say were needed to end years of political paralysis and economic stagnation in Tunisia, formalise temporary powers that he assumed after shutting down the elected parliament a year ago.

Among those moves was the replacement in March of several members of the Supreme Judicial Council, the body responsible for overseeing judges and the guarantor of judicial independence.

Saied, a law lecturer before his 2019 election victory, had been dismayed by several judicial decisions and accused the council of acting on behalf of political interests.

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