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Tunisia lawyers slam as 'dangerous' closure of anti-corruption body

Tunisian forces take security measures around parliament during a protest against suspending parliament, in Tunis, Tunisia on 26 July 2021 [Nacer Talel/Anadolu Agency]
Tunisian forces take security measures around parliament during a protest against suspending parliament, in Tunis, Tunisia on 26 July 2021 [Nacer Talel/Anadolu Agency]

The Tunisian Ministry of Interior's decision to close the country's anti-corruption body is "a dangerous unprecedented move", Lawyers for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms Association said in a statement on Sunday.

The body condemned the "Ministry of Interior's raiding and closure of the Anti-corruption Authority", which it said was "a clear violation of international treaties".

Tunisian President Kais Saied and the acting minister of the interior are responsible "for the breach of personal data of any citizen who submitted documents to the authority and for exposing those who report corruption to danger," the statement continued.

"Fighting corruption must take place with respect of the law rather than a contravention of it, by facilitating the work of oversight and judicial bodies, and providing an adequate atmosphere to work properly, rather than sealing them, demonising their members, defaming them or subjecting them to public trials with the aim of control, influence, and revenge."

READ: Tunisia president says 'there is no turning back'

The closure of the Tunisian Anti-Corruption Authority is the latest in a list of measures taken by President Saied since 25 July when he cited Article 80 of the constitution to dismiss Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi, freeze the work of parliament for 30 days, lift the immunity of ministers, and appoint himself as head of the executive authority until the formation of a new government.

This comes after violent protests broke out in several Tunisian cities criticising the government's handling of the economy and the coronavirus. Demonstrators had called for parliament to be dissolved.

The majority of the country's political parties slammed the move as a "coup against the constitution" and the achievements of the 2011 revolution.

The full text of the statement can be found below:

Statement by Lawyers for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms Association

Tunis, 22 August 2021

In a dangerous unprecedented move, the Tunisian Ministry of Interior ordered, on Friday 20 August 2021, the siege and evacuation the two headquarters of the Tunisian Anti-Corruption Authority and then sealed them, and the ministry issued on the same day a house arrest order against its former president.

The Ministry of Interior, as usual, refused to inform the public about the real reasons behind these decisions, except through a press release by the Tunis Governor stating that "the decision of closing the headquarters and the branch of the Anti-Corruption Authority was by a direct order of the acting Minister of Interior" pointing out that "he has no information about the reason of the decision to close the Authority which will continue until the end of the state of emergency".

Furthermore, the Presidency of the Republic published on its official Facebook page that same day a statement that the President issued a decree dismissing the Secretary-General of the Anti-corruption Authority from his duties, assigning the Head of Administrative and Financial Affairs of the same authority to temporarily manage it to guarantee the normal functioning of its tasks.

Accordingly, Lawyers for the Protection of Rights and Freedoms:

1. Condemns the Ministry of Interior's raiding and closure of the Anti-corruption Authority, in a clear violation of international treaties and of the goals for which the same constitutional authority has been established in accordance with the 2011 framework decree-law No. 120 related to anti-corruption, where Art. 12 states "it is a public independent authority possessing legal personality and financial and administrative independence", and Art. 15 states that "the State's relevant bodies must assist the authority to collect data and statistics about matters related to its mission and guarantee protection measures for victims, witnesses and whistleblowers".

2. Hold both the President of the Republic and acting Minister of Interior responsible for the breach of personal data of any citizen who submitted documents to the authority and for exposing those who report corruption to danger.

3. Condemns imposing a house arrest on the former president of the Anti-corruption Authority, and condemns the continuing imposition of house arrest on many citizens in a clear violation of the law and the constitution using the unconstitutional 1978 decree No. 50 under the pretext of preventive measures.

4. Affirms that fighting corruption must take place with respect of the law rather than contravention of it, by facilitating the work of oversight and judicial bodies, and providing an adequate atmosphere to work properly, rather than sealing them, demonising their members, defaming them, or subjecting them to public trials with the aim of control, influence and revenge.

5. Condemns the utter silence by national organisations and public bodies regarding what happened, while they had condemned even lesser violations against the Authority or its president in the past, reminding that corruption and despotism are always aided by justifications of "extraordinary" measures or "understanding" the necessity of the violations, for the sake of achieving security or better living conditions.

6. Calls for fighting corruption and its figures, systems, and arms, provided it is done within the respect of the law and under the supervision of a fair judicial system that is independent and free of any pressures or wrangling.

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