TUNIS (Reuters) -Tunisian President Kais Saied on Sunday dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, the body that deals with judicial independence, a move that raises fears about the independence of the judiciary and was sure to anger his opponents.
Saied’s decision caps months of his sharp criticism of the judges. Saied has frequently criticized the judiciary’s delay in issuing rulings in cases of corruption and terrorism. He repeatedly said he would not allow judges to act as if they are a state, instead of being a function of the state.
Saied called the council a thing of the past, adding he will issue a temporary decree to the council. He gave no details about the decree.
Last July, Saied dismissed the government and suspended parliament, a move his opponents described as a coup. He has been broadly criticized after seizing power and rejecting dialogue with all political parties.
The Supreme Judicial Council is an independent and constitutional institution, formed in 2016. Its powers include ensuring the independence of the judiciary, disciplining judges and granting them professional promotions.
Last month, Saied revoked all financial privileges for council members.
“In this council, positions and appointments are sold according to loyalties. Their place is not the place where they sit now, but where the accused stand,” Saied said in speech in the interior ministry.
On Sunday, parties and organizations, including the powerful UGTT union, will demonstrate to pressure the judiciary to hold those involved in terrorism accountable, on the ninth anniversary of the assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid.
It is expected that Saied’s supporters also will protest in a second demonstration against the Supreme Judicial Council.
“I tell Tunisians to demonstrate freely. It is your right and our right to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council,” Saied said.
Saied’s approval of Sunday’s demonstrations comes even though a government decision to ban all demonstrations remains in effect.
Last month, police fired water cannons and beat protesters with sticks to break up an opposition protest against Saied, whose seizure of broad powers and declared plans to redraw the constitution have cast doubt on Tunisia’s decade-old democratic system, and hindered its quest for an international rescue plan for public finances.
The president has initiated an online public consultation before drafting a new constitution that he says will be put to a referendum. He has not brought major political or civil society players into the process.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)