A dozen Tunisian MPs have frozen their membership at the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) to condemn the reduced sentences received by top officials of the former Ben Ali regime earlier this week; sentences they and many other Tunisians slam as “too lenient”.
The officials were arrested immediately after the overthrow of Ben Ali in January 2011, in relation to the deaths of protesters in Greater Tunis and the coastal and northern districts, Tala, al-Qasrayn, and Sfax. According to an unofficial survey released by the Higher Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Tunisia. in February 2013, more than 300 people were killed and 3,727 were injured during the clashes.
After three years of deliberations and defendants’ appeals, the military court in Tunis ruled that five former senior ranking officers should receive a three-year prison sentence and have their travel ban lifted. Former President Ben Ali was sentence in absentia to life in prison.
The court also ordered compensation payments to the injured and the families of those who were killed. The payments range from TD 5,000 (684 euro) and TD 140,000 (63,862 euro), according to the state news agency TAP.
Since the prison term is close to the time they have already served, the defendants will be released at the beginning of next month. One of them, Adel Touiri, former director of national security, is already free after the charges against him were dropped altogether, according to the radio station Mosaique FM.
Among those to be released are Ali Seriati, former head of presidential security, and Rafik Haj Kacem, former interior minister – both accused of violently suppressing protesters in 2011 prior to the ousting of Ben Ali.
Before the appeal, one former official Jalel Boudriga was initially sentenced to ten years for premeditated murder. However the court later redefined the deliberate murder charges to ‘non-assistance to people in danger’, allowing Boudriga and others to walk free.
Families and lawyers of the wounded and killed clashed with security forces inside the courtroom following the ruling which they consider to be unjust.
“This is theatre. We will have our justice in other ways. We will start another revolution,” said Ahmed Amri, brother of one of the protesters killed in 2011.
“This is a blow to the transition after the revolution,” said Laila Haddad, a lawyer for families of victims.
Deputies say they will refrain from participating in the NCA’s plenary sessions until the case is retried in a civilian court and the draft law on the creation of judicial chambers in charge of “cases of martyrs and wounded of the revolution” is approved.