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Tunisia judges stage protest, demand independence

By AFP - Jan 15,2014 - Last updated at Jan 15,2014

TUNIS — Hundreds of Tunisian lawyers and judges demonstrated Wednesday outside the National Constituent Assembly to condemn the draft constitution, which they say does not guarantee the independence of the judiciary.

“No to the taming of the judiciary” and “the people want independence for the judges” were among slogan shouted by protesters, who have received support from the national journalists union.

The judiciary was heavily controlled under Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, notably as a tool for suppressing the opposition, and particularly Islamist party Ennahda, which won Tunisia’s first free elections after the dictator was ousted in a popular uprising three years ago.

The protest was the latest in a number of demonstrations and strikes by judges in recent months, who fear their independence is threatened by the country’s new charter, which lawmakers are currently examining.

Over the past week there have been rowdy debates on articles relating to the powers of the judiciary, which resulted in the rejection of a number of controversial provisions, including one that defined the government’s role in nominating judges.

MPs also rejected another article defining the jurisdiction of military tribunals, for being too vague.

A groups of international NGOs and human rights organisations praised the new charter for evoking the general principles of judicial independence, but urged MPs to strengthen its guarantees.

“The draft chapter on judicial power contains several important articles that incorporate general principles on the independence of the judiciary,” said the group, which includes Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

But a number of provisions remain too vague, the group added, warning that they “could be misused by the executive and legislative powers”.

Attempts to begin significant reforms of the judiciary since the January 2011 revolution have largely failed so far.

The assembly is pushing ahead with the adoption of a long-delayed new constitution, voting article by article, but failed to complete the task by an agreed deadline of January 14, the third anniversary of Ben Ali’s downfall.

The charter contains around 150 articles, a third of which have yet to be ratified, as required before a vote to approve the whole text can take place.

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