The Backstroke

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Tunisian judges said they would continue their hunger strike against President Kais Saied’s controversial decision to dismiss them in what many observers call a rare act of protest for any judge anywhere in the world, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

In June, Saied issued a decree that allowed him to fire judges and dismissed 57 members of the judiciary over allegations of corruption and the protection of terrorists.

Many of the dismissed judges, however, began a general strike against the decision, and later turning it into a hunger strike, and demanded a reversal of the decree. So far, a number of judges have been hospitalized, some ending up in intensive care units.

Legal analysts said that Saied’s decision is part of a politically motivated effort to undermine the judiciary’s independence and secure his grip on power.

The dismissal came nearly a year after Saied, amid a period of political and economic turmoil, suspended parliament and fired Tunisia’s prime minister. Since then, the president has been ruling by decree, while moving to dissolve the independent High Judicial Council and remove judges.

While some Tunisians supported Saied’s so-called power grab, others have decried the move as eroding Tunisia’s democratic gains made since 2011, when mass anti-government protests forced the autocratic leader Zine Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country, a movement that later reverberated across the region and came to be known as the Arab Spring.

However, from all of the regional turmoil it was only Tunisia that ultimately emerged as a democracy, and in 2014 the country created a new constitution that enshrined the independence of the judiciary and established the High Judicial Council to oversee judicial affairs.

But Saied has since pushed for a new constitution to replace the 2014 charter and give the president more power. Last week, the new constitution was passed in a contentious referendum, where less than one-third of eligible voters participated. Opponents boycotted the vote.

Meanwhile, the judges vowed to continue their struggle against what they say is the destruction of the checks and balances mechanism required for a functioning democracy.

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