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Tunisia blogger gets 6 months for defaming army

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A Tunisian military appeals court jailed blogger Yassine Ayari for six months Tuesday for defaming the army, halving the previous sentence but failing to satisfy critics.

Chants of “Down with the military judge” rang out from the public gallery as the sentence was read out.

Ayari was prosecuted over blogs he had written alleging financial abuses by army officers and defence ministry officials in a case Human Rights Watch described as “not worthy of the new Tunisia”.

The 33-year-old is himself the son of an army colonel who was killed in a May 2011 clash with jihadists.

Ayari was initially tried in absentia and sentenced to three years.

But following his return to Tunis in December, a retrial was ordered and he was sentenced the following month to one year.

Ayari has alleged that he is being punished for blogs he wrote while out of the country that were critical of the anti-Islamist Nidaa Tounes party of President Beji Caid Essebsi, elected in December.

He is a supporter of former president Moncef Marzouki, a secular leftist who ruled in alliance with the moderate Islamist Ennahda party but was defeated by Essebsi.

Ayari was already an outspoken activist under the regime of veteran strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in a 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring revolts.

His family and supporters charge that his prosecution is a violation of newfound freedom of expression, which was one of the main gains of the revolution.

“I feel very bitter. The young people who made the revolution are being thrown into prison to please certain people,” his mother, Saida Ayari, told AFP.

“Six months — that’s going to be hard. The court has not been just.”

Defence lawyer Malek Ben Amor said no decision had yet been taken on whether to appeal to the Court of Cassation.

Human Rights Watch has called on parliament to reform laws that lead to imprisonment for defaming or insulting state institutions, and to end jurisdiction of military courts over civilians.

 



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