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Rights groups find fault with Ben Ali conviction

Human rights groups hail Ben Ali sentence but criticise the conditions under which the trial was held

AFP , Thursday 23 Jun 2011
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Three human rights groups Wednesday welcomed the corruption conviction of Tunisia's ousted president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his wife, but said conditions for a fair trial were not met.

In a joint statement, the International Federation of Human Rights, the Tunisian League of Human Rights and the National Council for Freedoms in Tunisia "hailed" the 35-year jail sentence slapped on the couple, living in exile in Saudi Arabia, for embezzling public funds.

But they deplored that "the trial did not take place in serene and irreproachable conditions" and that "all efforts were not made to secure Ben Ali's extradition before the opening of the trial."
"The opening of the trial of the former dictator conforms with the aspirations of the Tunisian people to justice, but the importance of this trial demanded that all conditions for a right to a fair rial should have been met first," the groups said.

They added that future trials must be held with victims present, "focusing on the most serious crimes, tortures, arbitrary detentions, harassment of human rights advocates, extra-judicial killings and others, perpetrated before the dictator's downfall, particularly serious human rights violations carried out during the Tunisian Revolution."

Deliberations ahead of Monday's verdict were unusually brief under the rules of the Tunisian penal code, said the statement calling for reforms to ensure "greater respect of the rights of the defense".

Monday, Judge Touhami Hafi said the sentences, which exceeded the 20 years that had been widely predicted, would take immediate effect despite the couple living in Saudi Arabia, which has so far ignored Tunisia's demands to extradite Ben Ali.

Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi, charged with plundering state coffers after the discovery of money and jewellery at their palace outside Tunis, were also fined a total of 91 million dinars (45.5 million euros/$66 million dollars).

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