By Monia Ghanmi
Hundreds of people demonstrated Monday (August 8th) in downtown Tunis to demand an independent judiciary and a break with the former regime.
The protest came after presidential confidante Saida Agrebi was allowed to leave the country and former ministers Bechir Tekkari and Abderrahim Zouari were released from custody.
Tekkari, who served as justice and human rights minister during the regime of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was arrested July 11th on accusations of corruption and abuse of power for allegedly forging property deeds of a famous restaurant in Sidi Bouzid. Former transport minister Zouari was arrested on April 13th for corruption in the ministry and for financing the disbanded Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD).
“They are just deceiving us,” said Souha Dridi. “Can it be imagined that a man who was a pillar in the former regime and who desperately defended Ben Ali and his family be released under the pretext that he was sick?”
Her colleague Samia Belhadi accused the interim government of procrastinating in reforming the judiciary, allowing criminals to go unpunished.
“We won’t be silent about this injustice,” she said. “We will defend our right to have an independent judiciary.”
These decisions also sparked criticism from political parties that accused the government of intervening in the judiciary to be lenient with officials associated with corruption and abuse of power.
The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) said that it “came as a surprise to those who know quite well the violations committed by those senior officials”.
“Delaying the trial of those who committed crimes against the people and this country casts doubt over the integrity and justice of the Tunisian judiciary in this interim period.” The PDP said.
The Ettajdid Movement stressed in a statement the need to remove all obstacles that hinder accountability and punishment “so that it may be an unequivocal message showing the serious break with the regime of despotism and corruption”.
However, some parties fear that the decision to release a number of former officials is just the beginning.
Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist Ennahda Movement, said in a statement that the judiciary in Tunisia was still subject to corruption. He expressed his fears that these developments would serve to put an end to the gains of revolution and would lead to the release of the remaining former regime officials and some of Leila Trabelsi’s family.
“Their games have become clear,” Mohamad Ali Sallami said. “But we have to calm down. The election is drawing near, and we shouldn’t give them any pretext to postpone it. After that, everyone will be relentlessly held to account.” Lawyers also debated the judiciary’s commitment to try former regime officials.
Lawyer Nacer Aouini doubts the integrity of the judiciary, saying that it is still subject to political pressures because Ben Ali’s judges are still in their positions.
A statement issued by the Ministry of Justice Saturday (August 6th) said that the judiciary has been completely independent since the January 14th revolution and that no power, other than conscience and law, is influencing it.
As to Tekkari and Zouari, the ministry said their release would ” not affect the course of investigations”.