TUNIS - Human Rights Watch said on Monday that Tunisia's "unfair and arbitrary" dismissal of 75 judges in May was a dangerous precedent for the independence of the country's judiciary.

HRW, which met 10 of the judges sacked, officially in an anti-corruption drive, noted that they all "described unfair disciplinary proceedings that violated international standards on the independence of the judiciary."

"These dismissals set a worrying and intimidating precedent for Tunisia's justice system," Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of HRW, was quoted as saying in a statement.

The justice ministry's procedure to dismiss judges ignored the minimal requirements for a fair and transparent process that is open to appeal, HRW said.

The 10 dismissed judges HRW interviewed said their superiors telephoned on May 28 to inform them that their names were on a list of dismissed judges.

They had not previously been contacted by the justice ministry and did not know the grounds for their dismissal.

HRW said that individual reasons given to judges were also unconvincing, with one saying he was sacked because of a debt to a private firm while another claimed he was told to go because he drank alcohol, which is not banned in Tunisia.

The justice ministry acted in the absence of the High Judicial Council, which was suspended after elections to a National Constituent Assembly, the rights watchdog said.

The delay in setting up a new institution to supervise the judiciary has created a legal and institutional vacuum which invites abuse, it added.

Many NGOs, including HRW, have charged that the Tunisian government, dominated by Islamist party Ennahda, has an influence on the judicial system that is incompatible with the principle of independence of the judiciary