Diego García-Sayán, the Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, and Clément Nyaletossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, expressed grave concern over the excessive restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association of judges peacefully protesting recent Presidential decrees in Tunisia.
On June 13, several social media channels seen as close to the President published a number of accusations against Anas Hmedi, President of the Association of Tunisian Magistrates (AMT), and judge at the Monastir Court of Appeal, further to his trade union activity within the association.
“We’ve received reports that these same social media pages have been harassing the magistrates for many months,” the experts said.
After issuing a series of defamatory comments, these channels also announced the opening of an investigation with the General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Justice against Judge Hmedi which could lead to his dismissal by the President.
Judge Hmedi has been summoned four times between July and August by the General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Justice. On August 17, he was informed through a summons from the Temporary High Judicial Council, of the prosecutor’s intent to charge him with interference with and obstruction of the administration of justice. According to the case file, the charges relate to his alleged “incitement” to strike of other judges working before the Court of Monastir. These allegations relate to a general strike the Tunisian judges have launched on 6 June earlier this year.
The Council is scheduled to hold a disciplinary hearing on the case, to decide whether or not to lift the judicial immunity that Judge Hmedi currently enjoys.
Furthermore, after the June strike that lasted almost a month, all of the days during which judges partook in the strike have been deducted from their salaries for July.
“We are concerned that these actions may constitute reprisals against Judge Hmedi for exercising his rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association”, said the experts, “In accordance with international human rights law, members of the judiciary are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, association and assembly”.
On June 26, the Hasdrubal information page again published a list of 42 magistrates who would soon be dismissed. The names of the honorary president of the AMT, the current president of the association, the president of the union of administrative magistrates are among them.
García-Sayán has previously expressed his concerns after President Kais Saied dissolved the High Judicial Council in February and summarily dismissed 57 judges in June.
“I am deeply concerned about the negative impact of recent actions by President Saied on judicial independence and the right to fair trial and access to justice for all people in Tunisia,” said García-Sayán.
“Under international standards, all disciplinary, suspension or removal proceedings against judges must be determined by an independent judicial body,” García-Sayán said. “In addition, judges shall be free to form and join associations of judges or other organisations to represent their interests, promote their professional training and protect their judicial independence.”
These reported acts of harassment against members of the judiciary take place against the backdrop of an ongoing state of exception in the country proclaimed by the President in July 2021.
“I have repeatedly raised my concerns on the President’s extension of the state of exception, after suspending parliament and removing the Prime Minister. Such an ongoing state of exception, particularly in a context of political instability and a concentration of powers, could facilitate human rights violations, including in the form of arbitrary detentions and judicial harassment,” said Voule.
“We urge the Government to put an end to emergency and exceptional measures and halt all undue restrictions on the legitimate exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. We remain available for meaningful dialogue on these critical issues,” the experts said.
The experts have been in contact with the Government of Tunisia regarding these concerns.