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Tunisia lawyers condemn president's 'unconstitutional' actions

Security forces take security measures around parliament building as supporters and opponents of coup gather in front of parliament building after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced late Sunday that he has fully assumed executive authority in addition to suspending parliament in Tunis, Tunisia on July 26, 2021. [Nacer Talel - Anadolu Agency]
Security forces take security measures around parliament building as supporters and opponents of coup gather in front of parliament building after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced late Sunday that he has fully assumed executive authority in addition to suspending parliament in Tunis, Tunisia on July 26, 2021. [Nacer Talel - Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian lawyers yesterday announced the establishment of the Lawyers for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms, "to monitor violations and abuses of individual and public rights, and to confront them by all legal and legitimate means", they said in a statement.

This comes just over a week after President Kais Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi, froze parliament and took over executive powers, citing Article 80 of the constitution.

In their statement the lawyers described Saied's actions as "unconstitutional", adding that "they constitute a grave breach of the constitution, international treaties and national laws."

"We warn that the continuation of such abuses and violations and their justification or suspicious silence surrounding them is a first step towards the return to dictatorship, authoritarianism and the suppression of rights and freedoms."

They added that they formed the new body because they "demand that rights and freedoms not be violated, that the civil nature of the state be maintained, that the independence of the military institution and the judiciary be guaranteed."

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This, they continued, is "in order to protect the gains of the revolution and ensure that human rights are not violated under any justification."

The statement can be read in full below:

Following the violations and abuses that ensued after the unconstitutional decisions taken by the Presidency of the Republic on July 25, 2021, namely:

  • Arbitrary arrests without respecting criminal procedures as stipulated by law, especially Law No. 05 of 2016 amending the Code of Criminal Procedures, particularly Chapter 57.
  • Night raids without consideration for the sanctity of homes and residents, without presenting any judicial orders in clear violation of Article 24 of the Constitution, and Articles 94 and thereafter of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In addition the raids were carried out by individuals in civilian clothes who did not identify themselves or present any court summons or warrants.
  • Targeting foreign and Tunisian journalists either by closing their offices, detaining some of them illegally, seizing their equipment, or obstructing their work.
  • The trial of civilians before military courts in clear violation of Article 110 of the Constitution, which states: "The categories of courts shall be established by law. It is forbidden to create exceptional courts, or to enact exceptional procedures that would prejudice the principles of a fair trial. Military courts are courts specialised in military crimes and the law determines their jurisdiction, composition, organisation, procedures, and the statute for their judges." This is in addition to the violation of international conventions and covenants in this regard.
  • Prosecuting some lawyers without respecting the special procedures stipulated in the decree regulating the legal profession, including the prerequisite to pass through the public prosecutor at the Court of Appeal, in addition to the fact that a lawyer can only appear before a civil investigative judge in the presence of a local representative. Additionally, investigations were opened against some lawyers before the military court, despite the fact that the same case had already been undertaken by the Public Prosecutor at the Court of First Instance in Tunis.
  • Suppression of freedom of opinion and expression by subjecting a number of bloggers and protesters to the decisions issued by the Presidency of the Republic on July 25, 2021, by indicting them with charges that may carry the death sentence.
  • The dissemination of incitement and hate rhetoric, and the increase in calls for infighting, threatening social peace and security.

We, a group of lawyers, after closely examining these abuses and violations, and considering that the law profession is key to the implementation of justice in accordance with Chapter 105 of the Constitution, rendering it responsible for confronting everything that violates the provisions of the Tunisian Constitution, for protecting rights and freedoms:

  1. We condemn all of these violations, as they constitute a grave breach of the constitution, international treaties and national laws.
  2. We condemn military trials of civilians and call for an end to such exceptional trials of a political nature that remind Tunisians of the political trials before exceptional courts, which the former regime used to eradicate its political opponents.This is particularly so since, after the revolution of December 17, 2010 / January 14, 2011, Tunisia ratified the Johannesburg International Treaty, which stipulates that civilians cannot be prosecuted before military courts, given that the military judiciary is an exceptional judiciary for prosecuting military crimes, and that the civil judiciary is the natural judiciary that protects the rights and freedoms of all individuals.
  3. We warn that the continuation of such abuses and violations and their justification or suspicious silence surrounding them is a first step towards the return to dictatorship, authoritarianism and the suppression of rights and freedoms.
  4. We are committed to the respect of the constitution and international agreements and laws, and we demand that rights and freedoms not be violated, that the civil nature of the state be maintained, that the independence of the military institution and the judiciary be guaranteed. Accordingly, we announce the establishment of Lawyers for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms, to monitor violations and abuses of individual and public rights, and to confront them by all legal and legitimate means.
  5. We also express our openness towards all components of civil society, nationally and internationally, in order to protect the gains of the revolution and ensure that human rights are not violated under any justification. We call on all those who support freedom and national and international organisations to monitor events in Tunisia and confront all violations and excesses taking place.

Lawyers for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms

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