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Tunisia prosecutor seeks death penalty for ousted president

A Tunisian military prosecutor called Wednesday for the death penalty in the trial of former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Currently exiled to Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali is being tried in absentia in a military court for ordering the shooting deaths of dozens of civilian protesters [CNN report] during last year's Tunisian revolution. It is the first time the death penalty has been sought against the former dictator, who is being tried only for "complicity in voluntary homicide" [AFP report] rather than direct involvement, and has been already sentenced to more than 66 years in prison on other charges ranging from embezzlement to drug trafficking. The prosecutor is also seeking the maximum penalties short of death for Ben Ali's co-defendants, who include ex-government officials such as former interior minister Rafik Kacem and former director general of public security Lotfi Zwawi. Ultimately more than 200 protestors died over the course of the uprising that ousted Ben Ali from power. The ex-president has denied [JURIST report] the numerous charges against him.

Ben Ali left office and the country in January 2011, seeking exile in Saudi Arabia during the protests. Just under one year later the military tribunal convened and began trying Ali for his alleged orders to shoot protesters, for which the prosecutor has now sought the death penalty. Ben Ali and his wife were tried and convicted [JURIST reports] in absentia on numerous charges related to corruption, including theft and unlawful possession of money and jewelry, and were sentenced to 35 years in prison and fined US$65.6 million. Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi [profile, in French] announced the issuance of an arrest warrant for Ben Ali in January 2011, but the country has not received a response to its requests to extradite [JURIST reports] the former leader from Saudi Arabia.

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