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Judges who call for independent judiciary targeted for speaking out

(IFEX-TMG) - Members of the IFEX-TMG have written to the International Association of Judges (IAJ) to appeal for support for judges in Tunisia, who are being persecuted for openly calling for judicial independence or for criticising the government. The letter is being sent to the IAJ and judges' associations worldwide as part of the IFEX-TMG's lobbying campaign to promote judicial independence and end the use of administrative sanctions to punish dissident views in Tunisia:

Mr. José Maria Bento Company, President
and Mrs. Fatoumata Diakite, First Vice-President and President of the African Regional Group of the IAJ
International Association of Judges
Palazzo di Giustizia, Piazza Cavour,
00193 Rome - Italy
tel. +39 06 68832213
fax. +39 06 6871195
e-mail: [email protected]

CC. Mr. Antonio Mura, Secretary-General
Delegates for African affairs:
Mr. Giacomo Oberto, Deputy Secretary-General
Mr. Raffaele Gargiulo, Deputy Secretary-General

Dear Mr. José Maria Bento Company and Mrs. Fatoumata Diakite and colleagues,

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange Tunisia Monitoring Group (IFEX-TMG), a global coalition of 20 IFEX members, is writing to you to express its deep concern at the unabated persecution of the democratically elected board members of the Association of Tunisian Judges (Association des magistrats tunisiens, AMT) since its takeover by government supporters in 2005.

IFEX-TMG has been documenting various forms of this persecution since its second fact-finding mission to Tunisia in September 2005. The latest and sixth fact-finding mission to this country, where the price for freedom of expression has continued to rise over the past five years, was conducted from 25 April to 6 May 2010. Its findings were documented in a report released on 6 June in Beirut "Behind the Façade: How a Politicized Judiciary and Administrative Sanctions Undermine Tunisian Human Rights", mainly based on interviews with prominent academics, lawyers and judges. (See: )

This politically motivated harassment continues to spark protest and solidarity among Tunisian civil rights advocates.

In 2005, these judges were arbitrarily transferred from Tunis to remote locations, hundreds of kilometres away from their families. In 2006, the statutes of AMT were amended to prevent judges assigned away from the capital Tunis from running for the executive committee of this association. This discriminatory amendment clearly was aimed at targeting the ousted leadership of AMT solely for its commitment to the independence of the judiciary enshrined in the 1959 Tunisian Constitution and the 1999 Universal Charter of the Judge.

In August this year, AMT Secretary General Kalthoum Kennou was moved from Kairouan, in the center of the country, much further away from Tunis to the southern city of Tozeur, while other targeted colleagues have seen their assignments outside the capital of Tunisia extended. They have also been denied promotions.

Unsurprisingly, the government supporters in charge of running the board of AMT since 2005 have turned a blind eye to the vengeful government measures inflicted on their colleagues, including the arbitrary and repeated deductions of large portions of their salaries.

On 25 August, the Tunisian Observatory of Labour Rights and Freedoms reported that the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights took in July and August 800 dinars and 1200 dinars respectively and without any explanation from the salary of Judge Ahmed Rahmouni, president of the democratically elected board of AMT. His wife, Judge Leila Abid, has not been spared from the same continuous harassment. Her salary for the month of February 2010 has been arbitrarily withheld.

The state-run media gives voice to the government-backed AMT board, but not to Judge Rahmouni and his persecuted colleagues of the democratically elected board in 2004. On 15 August, Judge Adnane El Heni, president of the pro-government board claimed in a statement quoted by the daily Assabah, which is owned by one of President Ben Ali's sons-in-law, that the decision to transfer Judge Kennou from Kairouan "was not arbitrary." A written and well-documented response to this groundless move was ignored by the state-run press, which remains one of the most muzzled in the world, according to international press freedom groups.

In addition to Judge Rahmouni, the response which was published on 21 August by the opposition weekly Attariq El Jedid, was signed by the following independent and persecuted Judges: Kalthoum Kennou, Wassila Kaabi, Raoudha Karafi, Leila Bahria, Hamadi Rahmani and Noura Hamdi, who continue, together with their respective families, to pay a heavy price for their unwavering commitment to the independence of the judiciary.

Judge Kaabi had a rare public opportunity earlier this year to shed light on the ongoing persecution imposed on her and her brave colleagues and the drastic restrictions on their freedom of movement, 53 years after the establishment of the Republic of Tunisia. (See: )

Judge Mohktar Yahyaoui, who was fired in 2001 for calling on President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to loosen the grip of the executive branch on the judiciary, and his family have also been harassed without respite. (See: ) He remains deprived of the right to leave the country and his daughter, Amira Yahyaoui - currently studying in Paris, France, has been denied the right to have her passport renewed over the past two years.

Thank you for any action you might wish to take to help end the persecution of these brave and independent judges and to protect their abused right to freedom of association, expression, movement and equality, which are all guaranteed by Tunisia's Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Tunisia ratified more than 30 years ago.

Yours sincerely,

Amadou C. Kanoute
ARTICLE 19, Senegal

Rohan Jayasekera
IFEX-TMG Chair and Associate Editor, Index on Censorship

IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Norwegian PEN
PEN International
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

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