A Tunisian military court on Wednesday sentenced former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] in absentia to life in prison in connection with his part in the killing of 22 protesters last year. Earlier on Wednesday Ben Ali was sentenced to 20 years [JURIST report] on charges of inciting violence and murder in connection with the death of four protesters in January 2011. Prosecutors sought the death penalty [AFP report] for the former president who has been sentenced to more than 66 years in prison for numerous crimes. Ben Ali has denied [JURIST report] all charges against him.
Ben Ali has also been sentenced to five years for torturing military officers over an alleged coup plot, 15 years [JURIST reports] on drug and gun charges and another 35 years [Reuters report] on theft and unlawful possession of jewelry charges. Ben Ali fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia in January 2011 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 indicated 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. Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi announced in April 2011 that Ben Ali had been charged with 18 offenses [JURIST report].