Monday, January 12, 2015

Civilian tried and convicted (in absentia) by a Tunisian military tribunal

 A Tunisian human right blog, Nawaat - which has won three major awards in recognition for the work done during the Tunisian revolution - reports on the arrest, detention, trial (in absentia), conviction and sentencing of a civilian engineer, Yassine Ayari, for publishing three commentaries in August and September 2014 on FACEBOOK. His comments were critical of the Minister of Defense and the Tunisian military for their lack of preparedness to counter terrorism threats.  Tunisian Nawaat blog 

The Tunisian Code of Military Discipline, although reformed in 2011, does not limit jurisdiction of military tribunals to offences of a purely military nature by military personnel.  As a result, Ayari was charged under article 91 of the Code of Military Discipline, which prohibits attacks on the "dignity, reputation and morale" of the army which weakens military discipline, obedience and respect for superiors. At trial, no less than 20 civilian lawyers pleaded that the military tribunal failed to comply with the Tunisian Constitution which  enshrines a Right to Freedom of Expression and guarantees a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.

On November 18, 2014 the Permanent Military Tribunal (First Instance) sentenced Ayari to a 3-year term of imprisonment. Ayari lives in France. He was arrested at Tunis-Carthage airport when he arrived from France on December 24, 2014.  He was immediately arrested and taken to Mornagula prison. Mr.  Hassiba Hadj Sahraou, the Deputy Director for Amnesty International for the Middle East and North Africa denounced such actions:
"It is unacceptable that Yassine Ayari has been imprisoned for criticizing state officials. As a civilian, he should never have been tried by a military court and he should be released immediately,  Tunisia’s new parliament, elected two months ago, should make it a priority to repeal laws that make defaming state officials and institutions a criminal offence, and that allow civilians to be tried by military courts.” 
Yassine Ayari, 33, is the son of a Tunisian Army Colonel, Taher, who died in the line of duty in May 2011 when he was ambushed and shot by a radical Islamist group.  According to Nawaat, Ayari’s comments merely echoed what had already been widely  circulating in the public domain. 

Ayari's lawyer has requested a retrial which is scheduled to be heard on January 20, 2015.

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