file photo: tunisian president kais saied takes the oath of office in tunis

President Kais Saied of Tunisia stretches his authority over the judiciary

 TunisiaTunisia – Thousands of Tunisians demonstrated on Sunday, only hours after President Kais Saied replaced a judicial watchdog and gave himself the authority to fire judges and prohibit them from striking. More than 2,000 people gathered in central Tunis hours after the decree was signed early on Sunday morning. Many of them waved flags and sang pro-independent judiciary songs.

Freedom! Freedom! The police state has come to an end. “Some people started chanting. Saied’s directive came a week after he announced that the High Judicial Council (CSM) would be dissolved, provoking a statewide court shutdown by judges who claimed that the action would jeopardize judicial independence. If a judge isn’t meeting his or her responsibilities, the president can fire him, according to the ruling, which creates a new 21-member “Temporary Supreme Judicial Council” with nine of its members chosen by him.

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Furthermore, it said that “it is unlawful for judges of all ranks to go on strike or engage in any organized collective action that could disrupt or delay the normal functioning of the courts.” There were a lot of people who were worried about what they thought was the only democracy in the Arab Spring until last July, when Saied overthrew the government, stopped parliament, and took over a lot of power.

Saied has long accused the CSM of obstructing politically sensitive investigations and being swayed by his arch-rival, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party. He has stated that he has no intention of interfering with the judiciary, but human rights organizations and world powers have slammed his decision. If the International Commission of Jurists is correct, Tunisia’s new law “solidifies power in the hands of the President/executive and completely removes any judicial independence,” says a statement from the commission.

“It takes Tunisia back to its darkest days,” the commission concluded, “when judges were transferred and dismissed on the basis of governmental whim.” The CSM issued a statement on Thursday saying that it “completely condemns the use of decrees to encroach on the constitutional structure of the judiciary” and that any alternative would be unconstitutional. Many Tunisians backed Saied’s power grab in July because they were tired of political parties that were seen as corrupt and self-serving. His critics say that he has brought the country back to autocracy.