In Post-Revolution Tunisia, Judges Fights and Journalists Strike to Stem Corruption
By hafawarebhi. Published 18 October 2012
The judiciary has been known as one of the most corrupting careers in Tunisia. For years, the dictatorial regime manipulated judges and used them to oppress the citizens. The cleanest few were prosecuted and punished, financially and morally, for their integrity. After the revolution, judges regained hope and thought the time of suborned judiciary would come to an end.
Nineteen months after 14 January, their hope seems to be lost, as the post-revolutionary government is still dominating the judiciary.
Since 4 October 2012, the members of the Association of Tunisian Magistrates (AMT) have been striking. Their primary grievance is the renewal of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy which was disbanded after the fall of the dictator Ben Ali. Worse, the renewed council was chaired by the Minister of Justice, which represents an “unacceptable intrusion” of the executive power into the judicial affairs. The strikers denounce also nomination by the government of untrustworthy and corrupt people in key positions in the judicial administration. Another claim is that the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) didn’t manage to adopt a temporary authority of the judiciary, because of the quarrel between the NCA members over the concept of independence. Thus, with an unfinished constitution, and laws that don’t entrench the separation of powers, not only the judges are afraid, but even people’s hope is buffeted.
The popular disenchantment is aggravated by the governmental appointments to top state media posts. Journalists, who held a general strike yesterday, October 17th, are desperately denouncing the attempts of the government to subject the public media. Striving for freedom and democracy after long decades of dictatorship, dozens of them responded to the strike call and gathered in the headquarters of The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT). Even artists, social society activists and young journalism students joined the movement brandishing banners that call for right to freedom of expression and access to information. Nejiba Hamrouni, the president of the SNJT explained the motives of the movement that was decided after “long and fruitless” negotiations with the government: “Why do we hold the strike? We strike to stand for free media that can reveal corruption in all sectors; a free media that can help citizens find the truth about employment, education and health.” Neji Bghouri, a former president of the union delivered a moving speech in which he traced the historical battles of the Tunisian press. When he praised the journalists of Dar Essabah, a wave of applause flowed through the crowd. Since October 1st, some of Dar Essabah journalists have indeed been holding a hunger strike to protest against the appointment of a “policeman” as a director-general of their press group.
At the end of the day, the SNJT affirmed the strike was successful. Over 90% of the journalists, either in public media or private TV channels and newspapers suspended their activities on this “memorable” day. The movement was supported by at least 320 Arab media outlets, in addition to the International Federation of Journalists, the Federation of Arab Journalists, the African Journalists Union, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and many other organizations. Olivia Gré, the director of the Tunisian chapter of RSF said:” the strike is an important step, but it should lead to real and effective change”. For her, reform depends on the political will to create a judicial frame that protects journalists and organize the media sector.
While judges are striking and some journalists are starving, politicians are endlessly quarreling and the economic and social scene is getting gloomier. Thankfully, some civil society activists are struggling to make the fight against corruption a national priority. But still, their endeavors require more synergy.