After the Salafist party was prevented from holding its annual congress in Tunis last week by security forces, despite a court ruling allowing it to do so, Tunisia’s Hizb Ettahrir party announced in a press conference on Thursday that it would file suit against two government ministers and the governor of Tunis.
While Hizb Ettahrir has been in the government’s crosshairs for a while, it was allowed to hold its annual congress in 2015, however this year the government has repeatedly indicated it was considering legal action against the group and when a court ruled in the group’s favor last week the government seems to have chosen to ignore the judiciary.
Hizb Ettahrir’s (also spelled Hizb Ut Tahrir) which was authorized as a political party in 2012 under the transitional Troika government, claims to reject violence, calls for the establishment of Sharia law in place of the 2014 Tunisian Constitution and advocates for the establishment of a global caliphate. “The next caliphate, savoir of the world” was the slogan Hizb Ettahrir chose for its annual congress which had been scheduled to take place in the Palace of Congresses convention center in Tunis on June 4.
In mid May five members of the group had been arrested for putting up signs promoting the congress in the Governorate of Sidi Bouzid, four were released when they agreed to stop but a fifth refused and was kept in custody, and in the week leading up to the congress the Ministry of the Interior declared that it would ban the congress for security reasons. The Ministry of the Interior’s the decision was backed by Kamel Jendoubi the Minister of Relations with Constitutional Authorities, Civil Society and Human Rights who said the decision was responsible ’emanates [from] a sovereign decision’.
However on Friday, June 3, on the eve of its scheduled party congress, the Administrative Court of Tunis overruled the Ministry of the Interior and granted Hizb Ettahrir the authorization to hold its congress the following day.
Early on Saturday the Governor of Tunis, Fakher Gafsi, announced the Palace of Congresses would be closed until June 20. Governor Gafsi also told ShemsFM that the decision had been taken to avoid disturbing public order and damaging the country’s image as the slogans and banners of Hizb Ettahrir ‘are the same as the terrorists’. Gafsi then added “the choice of the date, several days before the start of Ramadan is no coincidence as terrorists consider this a month for massacres and killings.”
On the same day Hizb Ettahrir’s leader, Ridha Belhaj, was pulled over by police on his way to Tunis from his home in Sousse and ordered to turn back, preventing him from attending. Buses and Louages (communal taxis) carrying members to Tunis were, according to Belhaj, also forced to turn back. The Palace of Congresses was cordoned off by security forces, but Hizb Ettahrir managed to hold an impromptu conference outdoors with very limited attendance.
According to Hizb Ettahrir the party will file suits against Minister Jendoubi, Minister of the Interior Hedi Mejdoub and Governor Gafsi.
In addition to the law suits, Hizb Ettahrir announced through a statement released the day of its off, on again, off again, somewhat on congress that read:
“We want to bring to the notice of the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD l’instance Vérité et Dignité) and the National Authority for the Fight Against Corruption (INLUCC-l’Instance de lutte contre la corruption) that corruption has reached its peak. Indeed, the governors of Tunisia allow Zionists to perform their pilgrimage to El Ghriba and ensure their protection, while denying us our annual conference although we are a legal party that campaigned during era of Bourguiba and Ben Ali.”
The Zionist reference is directed at Jewish Tunisians who hosted Jewish pilgrims from several countries as well as Tunisian government and international dignitaries, for the Passover Festival of Lag Ba’Omer at the El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba in May. It is precisely the sort of conflation (Jewish/Zionist) that Hizb Ettahrir is saying should not be applied to it where it concerns terrorism.
The freedom to establish political parties, unions, and associations is guaranteed.
In their internal charters and activities, political parties, unions and associations must respect the provisions of the Constitution, the law, financial transparency and the rejection of violence.
If Hizb Ettahrir is in violation of Article 35, and can be proven to be, than it should be dissolved by a court and banned. Hizb Ettahrir uses the very laws and judicial system it claims to reject and wants to replace in its own defense, circumventing the decisions of the judiciary only assists Hizb Ettahrir in its aims.
Raoudha Karafi, President of the Tunisian Judges Association, in comments which were focused on executive branch of government’s relationship to the judiciary in general, noted that the measures taken against Hizb Ettahrir were only the most recent in a series of court decisions which have been disregarded or circumvented. Stating “in a country of laws, it is the judicial bodies which decide what a menace to public order is.”
It is not the first time Hizb Ettahrir has been singled under the Presidency of Beji Caid Essebsi and the government of Prime Minister Habib Essid.
Days after the Islamic State claimed attack on a beach resort in Sousse in June of last year, Essid said a file had been compiled by the government on the ‘group’s excesses’ and Kamel Jendoubi said he had given the group a deadline to ensure that its party bylaws were in line with the Constitution.
During employment protests in January which followed the death of unemployed protester Ridha Yahyaoui in Kasserine, President Essebsi accused the group of incitement while seven members of Hizb Ettahrir were arrested in Sousse and the Ettadhamen suburb of Tunis (Governorate of Ariana) which saw incidents of rioting, for distributing pamphlets which the authorities said constituted an ‘incitement to violence’; the party refuted the claims regarding the content which it said called for peaceful protests.
Following violent clashes in April between demonstrators and security forces on the island of Kerkennah after the dispersal by force of sit in protests at the Petrofac natural gas production facility Prime Minister Essid accused Hizb Ettahrir and the Popular Front (a secular leftist political party) of instigating the clashes and having been involved in them.
During a meeting with members of the Tunisian press in shortly after accusing Hizb Ettahrir of involvement in the unrest in Kerkennah, Prime Minister Habib Essid said the Government had filed three legal complaints against Hizb Ettahrir and ‘several parties’ without further specification; Essid added the complaints could result in a freeze of its activities and the dissolution of Hizb Ettahrir.