Monday, June 20, 2011

Ousted Tunisian President, wife, sentenced to 35 years

A Tunisian court on Monday sentenced ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife, in absentia, to 35 years in jail each after finding them guilty of theft and unlawful possession of cash and jewellery.

Mr. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia following massive uprisings touched off when a street vendor doused himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze following confiscation of the scale he used to weigh fruit for his customers. When the man protested, the female government inspector, who was demanding a bribe to return the scale, slapped his face.

The incident began the Arab Spring movement that has so far resulted in a regime change in Egypt and widespread uprisings in Libya, Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria.

Pundits and learned observers feel that the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamic movement that adheres to a strict regimen of Sharia law, is very supportive of the Arab Spring revolts that have swept the mideast since the beginning of the year.

Reading out the verdict and sentence in the courtroom after just one day of deliberation, the judge also ruled Ben Ali and his wife would have to pay fines totalling 91 million Tunisian dinars ($65.6 million).

The judge said the verdict on other charges, relating to illegal possession of drugs and weapons, would be pronounced on June 30, according to a Reuters reporter who was in the courtroom.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 in the face of a popular uprising against his 23-year rule and is being tried in absentia by a criminal court over scores of cases against him and his entourage.

Akram Azoury, a Ben Ali lawyer who is based in Beirut, said earlier that his client "strongly denies all charges they are trying to press as he never possessed the sums of money they claimed to have found in his office".

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