Tunisian court jails former officials

Tunis: A Tunisian military court sentenced ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s interior minister and 38 other security officials to up to 20 years in jail on Thursday over the death of protesters during the revolution that launched the Arab spring.

Rafik Belhaj Kacem, former interior minister, was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Ali Seriati, Mr Ben Ali’s security chief, was given 20 years over the killing of protesters in the capital Tunis and the towns of Sousse, Nabeul, Bizerte and Zaghouan as a popular uprising spread through the country early last year.

    The court also sentenced Mr Ben Ali to life imprisonment in absentia, but he fled into exile in Saudi Arabia as protests swept Tunisia on January 14 2011 and is unlikely to be extradited.

    Ahmed Friaa, who was named interior minister shortly before Mr Ben Ali fled, was among three officials who had charges against them dropped.

    Many of the officials on trial have already been given jail sentences for various crimes linked to last year’s revolution, which toppled Mr Ben Ali and inspired uprisings in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.

    The sentencing provoked protests in the court room, with victims’ families enraged at what they saw as light sentences, while the relatives of those convicted were angered by trials they believe to be politically charged and unfair.

    Some women wailed and fainted as the verdicts were read out.

    “Did we wait a year and a half for this farce?” screamed Saida al-Saifi in the court room.

    Carrying a picture of her son, killed in a Tunis suburb in January 2011, she told Reuters: “We will take our rights with our own hands . . . We will start a war and we will not give up the rights of our children as long as the courts are unfair to us.”

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