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Tunisia ex-president's relatives sentenced, security chief acquitted

Relatives of former Tunisian president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] were sentenced [TAP News Agency report] on Friday, while one notable ally, his security chief Ali al-Seriati, was acquitted on charges of forgery. All were sentenced on varying charges related to aiding Ben Ali and his wife Leila's escape from the nation in January. Seriati still awaits hearings on charges that he "sowed strife" after the recent uprisings across the Middle East. Prison terms for the convicted ranged between four months and six years. The convicted plan to appeal. Last month, Ben Ali and his wife were sentenced to an additional 15 years in prison [JURIST report] by the Tunisian Court of Criminal Appeal after being found guilty in absentia on charges of illegal possession of drugs, weapons and stolen archaeological artifacts [La Presse de Tunis report, in French]. That followed the previous month's verdict [JURIST report] by the Tunisian Court of First Instance against the pair on charges of theft and unlawful possession of money and jewelry.

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. But Ben Ali said that he was "duped" into leaving [AFP report] the capital Tunis, according to a statement released through his lawyer. He said that he was trying to get his family out of the country after assassination threats and that the plane left him in Saudi Arabia despite orders to wait for him. 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. Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi [profile, in French] announced the issuance of an arrest warrant for Ben Ali in January, though the country has not received a response to its request to extradite [JURIST reports] the former leader from Saudi Arabia, where he remains in exile. Chebbi announced that Ben Ali had been charged with 18 offenses [JURIST report] in April.

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