Geneva – Tunisian President Kais Saied's dismissal and defamation of judges is irresponsible. Inciteful speech against public and partisan figures and institutions since the announcement of the exceptional measures in July last year should be curbed, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said Wednesday in a statement.
Earlier this month, at the meeting of the government he appointed last year, Saied dedicated his speech to attacking judges. He recited the charges—including adultery—under which he decided to dismiss 57 judges. He also alluded to certain judges but did not mention their names.
Following Saied's speech, accounts supporting the president on social media published documents leaked from the investigation files of two of the dismissed female judges. One of the documents included a medical report and a report from the Judicial Police Squad of the Gabes Regional Security Department about one of the judges committing adultery. Similarly, the same accounts published another report issued by the National Guard Special Division in Sousse province, accusing the other judge of the same charge.
Although these documents are still under judicial review and no final ruling has been issued on them, it seems that the authorities are deliberately leaking these documents to defame and morally assassinate the two judges and justify the decision to dismiss them along with dozens of others.
The Tunisian president's defamation and dismissal of judges based on non-conclusive court records or rulings is a grave violation of their right to privacy, a direct attempt to seriously damage their reputation, and a blatant intrusion of their private lives. Given the conservative nature of Tunisian society and the negative societal effects that such charges can have, female judges are the most affected.
The defamation of the two female judges is one kind of violence against women. Law No. 58 of 2017 defines violence against women as "any physical, moral, sexual, or economic aggression against women based on discrimination between the two sexes and resulting in damage or physical, sexual, psychological, or economic suffering to the woman, including threats of such aggression, pressure, or deprivation of rights and freedoms, both in public and private life."
Official documents should be fully protected by the state and should not be leaked and used to direct public opinion and create pretexts for presidential decrees, especially in a case involving two female judges representing an independent authority. It is also the responsibility of the competent authorities to ban the circulation of these documents and to hold everyone involved in their leakage and the defamation of the persons involved in them accountable.
The constitutional basis on which the Tunisian president relied to issue the decree to dismiss the judges (Presidential Decree No. 516 of 2022) is irrelevant. The president relied on previous decrees he issued under the exceptional measures, which also contradict the Tunisian Constitution, such as Decree No. 117 of 2021, in which they legislated the disruption of state institutions and the imposition of presidential guardianship on them.
The path pursued by Saied since 25 July 2021 is condemnable. This includes the decrees and decisions through which he sought to control all authorities, including the legislative and judicial authorities; the exclusionary and unilateral measures he took, such as the formation of a committee to prepare a new constitution for the country and setting a date for a referendum on it; and the call for a national dialogue from which political parties were excluded after they were defamed and accused of treason.
Last February, Euro-Med Monitor warned of the danger of Decree No. 11 of 2022, issued by the Tunisian president at the time. The decree dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council and created another temporary council with partial powers, citing suspicions of corruption. The decree makes the president a primary reference for making decisions about the council, such as appointment and dismissal of judges, and cancels some constitutional and union rights for judges, such as organizing strikes.
President Saied should act responsibly, stop all illegal practices against his opponents, respect their privacy, and stop using the constitution and the law in an arbitrary manner to take revenge on political opponents.
The Tunisian authorities should open an immediate and transparent investigation into the leakage of official documents relating to the investigation files, identify and hold all those involved in the process accountable, compensate those affected by this illegal act, and take all possible measures to make sure that such actions are not repeated.