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Tunisia tries ex-president in absentia for killings of protesters

Former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] went on trial in absentia Tuesday before a military court. The trial will focus on who ordered snipers to kill 41 protesters during last year's Tunisian revolution which resulted in the death of more than 200 protesters. Along with Ben Ali, numerous former senior officials were named as defendants in this trial. Among them was the former director general of public security, Lotfi Zwawi, who on Monday denied any knowledge of the death of the protesters. The former Tunisian president and his wife have been already sentenced to 35 years in prison [JURIST report] and fined USD $65.6 million in June after the court found them guilty in absentia of theft and unlawful possession of money and jewelry. The ruling came hours after the trial began [JURIST report] for charges including murder and conspiracy to trafficking and drug use. The ex-president has denied [JURIST report] the numerous charges. He left the office [JURIST report] and the country in January to Saudi Arabia during the protests. But Ben Ali, through his attorney, stated that he left because he was "duped" into leaving [AFP report] the capital Tunis.

Tunisian Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi [profile, in French] announced [JURIST report] in April that Ben Ali had been charged with 18 offenses. The announcement came after Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch [advocacy websites] urged Tunisia to investigate [JURIST report] the allegations of brutality against protesters and to end such police violence [JURIST report]. The Tunisian criminal court convicted [JURIST report] in November a nephew of Ben Ali, Imed Trabelsi, for 18 years in prison for writing over USD $399 million in bad checks. He was already in prison when the conviction took place for drug possession, money laundering and embezzlement which he appealed but lost [JURIST report].

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