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Tunisia: UN Condemnation of two Lawyers’ Arrest and Call to End Judicial Interference and Harassment

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Press release

Geneva – June 2, 2024


UN experts have condemned the violent detention and arrest of lawyers Sania Dahmani and Mehdi Zaghrouba at the Tunisian Bar Association’s headquarters, as well as the prevention of a prominent judge from attending an international meeting. These actions, described as severe violations of fundamental rights, must cease immediately.

The experts expressed shock at the physical condition of Mr. Zaghrouba, who exhibited signs of severe beating, including bruises and scratches on his body,

right shoulder, back, legs, arms, and fingers during his hearing. His health deteriorated rapidly during the proceedings, leading to vomiting and loss of consciousness. The experts have called for urgent medical attention for Mr. Zaghrouba and demanded an independent investigation, emphasizing the absolute prohibition of torture.

Additionally, Judge Anas Hmedi, President of the Association of Tunisian Magistrates (AMT), was denied leave to attend the annual meeting of the International Association of Judges in Africa in May. The experts highlighted their concern that the Ministry of Justice’s refusal lacked justification and hindered the AMT’s trade union activities by restricting its President’s official travel.

The UN experts condemned these actions as excessive restrictions on the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, and association for lawyers and judges in Tunisia. They suggested these measures might be reprisals against Judge Hmedi for exercising his rights. The experts reiterated that, under international human rights law, members of the judiciary, like all individuals, are entitled to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

The experts expressed alarm over the negative impact of recent executive actions on judicial independence and the right to a fair trial and access to justice for all in Tunisia. They criticized the Ministry of Justice for using work memoranda arbitrarily, outside any legal framework, to alter court compositions, including presidents, public prosecution judges, instruction judges, and judicial chambers. These changes, initiated mid-judicial year following interrogations by the General Inspectorate of the Ministry of Justice, appear to be punitive measures against judges, undermining the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Further concerns were raised about judicial independence following President Kais Saied’s dissolution of the High Judicial Council in February 2022 and the summary dismissal of 57 judges in June 2022. The experts called on the Tunisian government to lift all undue restrictions on the legitimate exercise of the rights to peaceful assembly and association for judges and lawyers. They expressed their readiness for meaningful dialogue on these critical issues and have formally communicated their concerns to the Tunisian authorities.

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