By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) -Tunisia’s police have shut the Supreme Judicial Council building, its head told Reuters on Monday, as President Kais Saied vowed non-interference a day after he dissolved the council, accusing its members of bias and corruption.
Saied has been consolidating his powers https://www.reuters.com/article/us-tunisia-politics-timeline-idUSKCN24G2SU since last summer when he suspended parliament, dismissed the prime minister and said he could rule by decree. He has grown increasingly critical of the judiciary.
“I assure everyone in Tunisia and abroad that I will not interfere in the judiciary. I will not interfere in any case or any appointment. I do not want to control all power,” Saied said in a speech.
He accused judges of loyalty to political factions and cited cases that have languished in the courts for years without verdicts.
Critics have called Saied’s almost total seizure of power a coup, with judges’ associations accusing him of an illegal act that undermines judicial independence https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/tunisian-judiciary-head-says-presidents-move-illegal-judges-wont-be-silent-2022-02-06.
“The president has moved to the stage of seizing institutions. What is happening is very dangerous and illegal,” said council head Youssef Bouzakher.
The United States was “deeply concerned” by developments and called on Saied’s government to respect the independence of the judiciary, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said.
Price told reporters that Washington had called for an “accelerated political reform process” in Tunisia and urged the government to prioritize economic reforms to stabilize the country’s financial situation.
Tunisia faces a crisis in public finances over the coming months, posing a major challenge https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/economic-pain-threatens-social-political-chaos-tunisia-2022-02-02 to any significant reform effort.
Saied has held back on widespread arrests or efforts to shut down debate since last year, and has promised to uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution that brought democracy.
However, security forces have pursued politicians and business leaders on various charges and have pushed many of the cases through the military rather than civilian courts.
Saied has said he will rewrite the constitution and put it to a referendum this summer but critics say any changes should be decided through dialogue. Saied, whose wife is a judge, was a constitutional law professor before he ran for president in 2019.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alex Richardson, Richard Chang and Grant McCool)