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Rights groups welcome verdict but criticize trial of Tunisia ex-president Ben Ali

Three human rights groups released a joint statement [text, in French] Wednesday in support of the sentencing of former Tunisian president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] but also criticizing his trial as unfair. The International Federation of Human Rights [advocacy website], the Tunisian League of Human Rights and the National Council for Freedoms in Tunisia expressed approval [AFP report] of the 35-year jail sentences and $65.6 million fine handed down earlier this week [JURIST report] but also criticized the trial proceedings for not including Ben Ali and his wife, who are currently in exile in Saudi Arabia, for not including victims involved in the case, and for the unusually brief deliberations. The groups ultimately advocated reforms for "greater respect of the rights of the defense." "The opening of the trial of the former dictator," the groups stated, "conforms with the aspirations of the Tunisian people to justice, but the importance of this trial demanded that all conditions for a right to a fair trial should have been met first." The sentences will take effect despite the couple's exile and even though Saudi Arabia has ignored demands for extradition.

Ben Ali and his wife were also charged [JURIST report] with illegal possession of drugs and weapons, but the verdict for those charges will not be announced until June 30. Ben Ali fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia in January during protests against his 23-year autocratic rule in which his family amassed substantial wealth [Reuters report] that many Tunisians say was at their expense. Ben Ali has denied the charges against him [JURIST report] which stem mostly from allegations that he authorized the use of force against protesters during the Tunisian revolution, resulting in more than 200 deaths. The uprisings in Tunisia and ousting of Ben Ali were the beginning of similar uprisings across the Middle East also resulting in the ousting of former Egypt president Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile; JURIST news archive].

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