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Tunisia judges strike to protest firings

The Tunisia Judges' Union went on strike Wednesday to protest a decision by Justice Minister Noureddine Bhiri [Tunisia Live profile] to fire more than 80 judges. According to the head of the Judge's Union, Raoudha Abidi, the judiciary's open-ended strike [Tunisia Live report] will not end until Bhiri reverses his decision to terminate the judges' employment and allows the fired judges to defend against the allegations of corruption in a trial setting. Abidi noted that the judiciary is not defending the allegedly corrupt judges, but is instead calling for the government to allow for each judge to defend their actions [WP report] and have a fair trial. Bhiri used Article 67 of the judicial law to fire the judges without any consultation. The union is also advocating for the Tunisian government to abolish the controversial law. The Minister of Justice has defended the firing of the judges, explaining that the judges had been under investigation for five months and were fired in order to combat the rampant corruption that had been occurring throughout the judiciary. The ministry also noted that each judge was given three days to appeal the decision.

A Justice Ministry spokesperson said that the fired judges were likely involved in passing judgments in favor of family members of ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Currently exiled to Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali is being tried in absentia in a military court for ordering the shooting deaths of dozens of civilian protesters during last year's Tunisian revolution. Ben Ali left office and the country [JURIST report] in January 2011, seeking exile in Saudi Arabia during the protests. He and his wife were tried and convicted [JURIST reports] in absentia on numerous charges related to corruption, including theft and unlawful possession of money and jewelry, and were sentenced to 35 years in prison and fined US$65.6 million. The Justice Minister announced the issuance of an arrest warrant for Ben Ali in January 2011, but the country has not received a response to its requests to extradite [JURIST reports] the former leader from Saudi Arabia.

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