Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—A number of former officials from the government of Tunisia’s deposed dictator, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, were released from prison on Sunday, following three years spent inside on charges related to the suppression of protests during the 2011 Tunisian revolution.
The Tunisian military appeals court endorsed its initial ruling of a life sentence against former president Ben Ali—currently in exile in Saudi Arabia—but commuted the sentence of former interior minister Rafiq Belhaj Kacem, from 12 to three years. It also sentenced the last interior minister under Ben Ali, Ahmed Friaa, to a suspended sentence of two years.
Kacem, former Presidential Security chief Ali Seriati, former Public Security chief Lotfi El-Zaouaoui, former paramilitary police chief Jalal Boudraiga, and former National Security director-general Adel Touaitri, were all released at the end of their sentences.
Meanwhile, a number of lawyers involved in the cases accused the court of adjusting the charges to lessen their severity, including downgrading some murder charges to “failing to take preventative measures when confronting protesters.”
The military court also decided to lift the travel ban on all defendants. Sharafeddine El-Qalil, a lwayer representing some of those killed and injured during the protests against Ben Ali, said there were plans to appeal against the military court’s decisions because they were too lenient.
The rulings, which were announced on Saturday, to reduce the sentences from 20 years to time served caused a wave of criticism among the families of the victims and their lawyers.
A spokesman of the leftist Democratic Patriots’ Movement, Mohamed Jamour, who served on the legal team representing some of the dead and injured, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the decision of the military court was a “disgrace,” and “a second killing of the martyrs and injured.”
He added sarcastically that “all we should do now is to ask for forgiveness from Ben Ali and his wife,” and that this was “an episode to clear the former regime from all crimes committed during the revolution.”
A number of lawyers, including Jamour, announced their withdrawal from all cases related to those killed or injured during the revolution in protest at the ruling.
The Tunisian Observatory for Judicial Independence, a legal NGO, criticized the move, and raised doubts about the independence of military courts.
Ahmed Hamrouni, president of the Observatory, told Asharq Al-Awsat he would call for a retrial and for the defendants to be charged with using live ammunition against peaceful protesters.