TUNIS (Middle East Eye/AFP) –
Tunisian police used pepper spray to disperse protesters against President Kais Saied and a planned July referendum, nearly a year after he seized wide-ranging powers in what opponents decry as a coup.
The police blocked the protesters, who numbered around 100, as they attempted to reach the headquarters of the electoral commission, whose chief Saied replaced last month in a further extension of his control of state institutions.
Some at the protest in Tunis, organized by five small political parties, held up placards reading “the president’s commission = fraud commission”.
“The police... sprayed gas in our faces and attacked us,” said Hamma Hammami, head of the Tunisian Workers’ Party.
Saied on 25 July sacked the government and suspended parliament, which he later dissolved in moves that sparked fears for the democracy that emerged from the “Arab Spring” uprisings.
He also seized control of the judiciary, and on Thursday summarily sacked 57 judges, accusing them of corruption and other crimes.
The Tunisian judges said on Saturday that they would also take part in a sit-in to protest the decision by Saied to expel the judges.
The strike is to start this Monday and could be extended if necessary, said Anas Hamaidi, president of the Association of Judges.
“This injustice will not pass in silence .... These free voices will never be silenced,” Hamaidi said, adding “The attack was not only against judges, but on the law and freedoms.”
Tunisia has been gripped by a political crisis since the president dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament for 30 days in July 2021. The Tunisian president said at the time that his decision was meant to “save Tunisia, the state, and the Tunisian people,” in the midst of growing public anger and protests against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The president has also rendered the country’s constitution ineffective in an apparent move to preempt any challenge to his decrees.
The judges, who were holding an emergency meeting in the capital Tunis, said their national strike would see them suspend work at “all criminal, administrative, and financial courts,” AFP reported.
They said they “strongly condemn the president’s continued interference in the judiciary.”