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Tunisia: President Saied attacks constitution article guaranteeing freedom of conscience and belief

President of the Republic of Tunisia Kais Saied at the Royal Palace on June 03, 2021 in Brussels, Belgium. [Olivier Matthys/Getty Images]
President of the Republic of Tunisia Kais Saied at the Royal Palace on 3 June 2021 in Brussels, Belgium [Olivier Matthys/Getty Images]

Tunisian President Kais Saied has threatened the judiciary, pressuring it into applying a travel ban on certain judiciary members. He also criticised the drafting of the Constitution, specifically Article Six, which addresses religious freedoms.

This came after he condemned the decision to release a judge after she was recently arrested solely for possessing a large sum of money.

Saied announced: "How did they let her go when she had such a large sum of money in her possession. We have not at any time intervened in the judiciary, but it has to bear responsibility. Either it is on time and with history, or whoever colludes with these shall bear the responsibility."

He stressed: "Some people have enough money to enrich the Tunisians. Although I suspect that some individuals, for whom no court order has been issued, are involved. Despite that, they have been allowed to travel abroad."

"I can order the closure of the borders. But the matter has to do with the interests of the Tunisians and the bridges allocated for bringing in medical aid, vaccines and oxygen condensers," he added.

Criticising the drafting of the Constitution

Saied also criticised how the Tunisian Constitution is drafted, referring specifically to Article Six. This came during a meeting with Minister of Social Affairs Mohamed Trabelsi.

Saied expressed: "The Constitution has been shared. A chapter is written for each individual according to their own mood. As for Article Six, if all the constitutional courts in the world come together, they will never be able to implement it. We implement the Constitution, and Article 80 gives me the right to take these measures because the Tunisian state is facing a threat."

Article Six outlines: "The state is the guardian of religion. It guarantees freedom of conscience and belief, the free exercise of religious practices and the neutrality of mosques and places of worship from all partisan instrumentalisation. The state undertakes to disseminate the values of moderation and tolerance and the protection of the sacred, and the prohibition of all violations thereof. It undertakes equally to prohibit and fight against calls for Takfir and the incitement of violence and hatred."

READ: Tunisia president sacks chiefs of security, national guard

Saied added that he takes decisions on his own, based on his conviction and not on "illusory balances", as he put it. He went on to say: "There are those who wish for the state to be absent so as for a bunch of individuals to rob the Tunisian people. Such individuals have no chance in the future."

On 25 July, the Tunisian president suspended Parliament and the immunity of all members of Parliament. He also dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi in a step seen as a coup against the Constitution and democracy in the country.

Saied has not yet appointed a new prime minister and has not announced any measures to end the state of emergency. No plan for the forthcoming period has been shared, and neither has he outlined a road map. Instead, he has been mocking those who demanded this of him, joking that he would have to look up the map in a geography textbook.

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