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HRW urges Tunisia lawmakers to ensure judicial independence

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Monday urged [press release] Tunisian lawmakers to revise a draft law that would limit judicial independence in the country. According to HRW, the new bill sets up a temporary council for judicial supervision that has the authority to appoint, promote and dismiss judges. The rights group expressed concern that, while the new law is less restrictive than prior judicial regulations, it leaves open the possibility for arbitrary dismissal of judges. Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, urged the lawmakers to revise the law and reduce judicial restrictions before its passage:

The draft law for a Temporary Judicial Council lacks protection against the arbitrary removal or transfer of judges. The National Constituent Assembly should address this shortcoming before passing a law that it defines as temporary but could have lasting impact. ... An independent judiciary is a key pillar of a democratic governmen. The assembly should adopt strong safeguards for judicial independence.
The rights group also expressed concern that the proposed law did not adequately define offenses that can lead to disciplinary action, leaving further possibility of arbitrary dismissal or disciplinary measures.

Tunisia has faced political turmoil since former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] left office amid nationwide protests. A Tunisian military court last month sentenced Ben Ali in absentia to life in prison [JURIST report] for his involvement in the killing of 43 protesters during last year's Tunisian revolution which resulted in the death of more than 200 protesters. Ben Ali was already sentenced to life in prison [JURIST report] for his involvement in the killing of 22 protesters. He has also been sentenced to 20 years [JURIST report] on charges of inciting violence and murder in connection with the death of four protesters. The two sentences were added to previous sentences amounting to 55 years in prison including 15 years for drug and gun charges and 35 years [JURIST reports] on charges of theft and unlawful possession of money and jewelry. In April the country's military appeals court upheld [JURIST report] the convictions against the former president for torturing military officers over an alleged coup plot in 1991. In January a military court started its trial against Ben Ali focusing on who ordered snipers to kill 41 protesters during last year's revolution. Ben Ali had denied [JURIST report] all charges brought against him.

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