Tunisian Judges Should Reject Corruption

Article Summary
Judges in post-revolutionary Tunisia continue to face pressure to embrace corruption, in a situation that appears to have stagnated progress in the country, writes Nizar Bahloul.

Nowadays, not a week goes by without the judiciary being criticized in "free and democratic" Tunisia.

It has been almost two years since the revolution — or pseudo-revolution — took place, and the judicial system has not yet achieved any real reform nor rid itself of the ministerial yoke.

Despite all of the scandals, excesses and injustices, no concrete solutions have been found to enable judges to work freely according to their conscience and the law.

Torn between an authority that is diligently forging its dictatorship and a public that seeks revenge and vengeance, the judges are losing a historic opportunity to save their trade.

At the end of the day, the only body that is (temporarily) taking advantage of this revolution is the information branch. For its part, the media is somehow trying to exercise this freedom of expression and resist the repressive apparatus that is gradually taking shape again following a year-long respite under Beji Caid Essebsi.

Divided by infighting, the judges have failed to overcome their differences and unite to take advantage of this historic moment.

Taking advantage of these divisions, the minister of justice enjoyed the discord that had been sown between the judges and delighted in the clan warfare, punishing some and threatening others.

Noureddine Bhiri, a real political wolf, showed extraordinary expertise in handling and using a series of laws created under Ben Ali. His feats will go down in history, beginning with the dismissal of undesired judges (allegedly corrupt, however this is yet to be proven), his judicial action or the total blockage of the creation of a high independent body.

Some believed and still believe in the good faith and intellectual honesty of Bhiri, but one would be crazy or naive to believe that an Islamist minister would let go of the super power in his hands in the name of independence and democracy.

A year after his accession to power, the facts are clear and there is no getting away.

Independent judges clearly stated that a defendant should be released. Fehri, however, is still behind bars. This is the case of Sami Fehri.

Former CEOs of an airline company involved in a case of fictitious employment are in prison, while other former CEOs involved in the same case, presumably with the same degree of severity, are free men. This is the case of Nabil Chettaoui.

The former Minister of Justice, Sadok Chaabane, is in prison supposedly for an issue of torture, which has theoretically lapsed, dating back almost 22 years. At the same time, we continue to observe torture and see people dying from torture or hunger strikes. This is the case of Nabil Araari, Mohsen Khlaïef — who was tortured in December — Abderraouf Khamassi — who died from torture in September — and Mohamed Bashir and Golli Bakhti, who died following a hunger strike.

Former Minister of Interior Rafik Haj Kacem is in prison for allegedly being involved in the death of protesters, while the current minister of interior continues to exercise his powers, despite the deaths of demonstrators less than four months ago. This is the case of the U.S. embassy.

A foreign minister was caught red-handed by a blogger, but it is the blogger who was prosecuted and banned from traveling. This is the case of Olfa Riahi.

The former advisor to the president denounced established facts and was condemned. This is the case of Ayoub Massoudi.

A university dean was attacked in his own office and brought to justice. This is the case of Habib Kazdaghli.

There are several senior officials under Ben Ali who are still in prison, despite exceeding the statutory periods of detention or because new warrants were released on the eve of the statutory period’s expiration date.

There are current party leaders and ministers who were directly involved in murders and vitriolic attacks and were indeed convicted, but managed to slip through the cracks of the judicial system without any judge seeking to enforce any judgment or take a serious look at the facts.

There is a pseudo parliament which has clearly exceeded its mandate and its initially defined powers, but continues to exercise its mission as usual by taunting everyone and trying as much as possible to serve the personal (and mercenary) interests of its members.

This is all without even bringing up  rumors of the increasing fortunes of  some ministers and their wives, who are taking full advantage of their new positions.

And as if that isn’t enough, there is still room for this political wolf, who is trying to catch up for the lost time after missing his career under Ben Ali.

Where are the honest, clean judges in all these cases? "Our hands are tied, our careers are threatened and we are intimidated. Some of us have blood on our hands and are trying to save our own hides by showing the new rulers that we are clean. Others have focused their careers on their mission, while some combine their personal political opinions with their duties. With all this, we can only be disunited and powerless in the face of these injustices and cases of abuse," a judge replied.

So what is the solution? Since everyone is talking about revolution, the judges must start their own. They must put an end to the charade. They must unite. They must separate their independence from political power. They must stop executing orders, even indirect ones. They have to be brave. They must initiate the necessary procedures when they discover cases of abuse. They should alert their association, their union and the media when they are under pressure. Unity strengthens them. They should do it for them, to save their own bodies and to save Tunisia. Their role is vital and their authority is very powerful.

Without justice, without judges, there cannot be democracy, freedom of expression, investment or development.

Without them, Tunisia will descend into the depths of despair. Without them, Tunisia will regress back to the Middle Ages.

Dear judges, save us, rise in rebellion!

Note: This is dedicated to Sami Fehri, Nabil Chettaoui, the Salafists and many others who have been in jail for months awaiting trial.

Found in: tunisian government

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