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Tunisia judges' strike postpones Ben Ali trial to July 4

The second trial of Tunisia's ousted Ben Ali has been postponed due to judges striking in protest over harassment from the justice ministry

AFP , Thursday 30 Jun 2011
Tunisia
Judge Touhami Hafi gestures, at the Tunis Criminal Court, in Tunis, Monday, June 20, 2011, (AP).
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Striking judges on Thursday postponed a second trial of Tunisia's ousted president Thursday until July 4, amid growing concern about the value of legal proceedings against him in his absence.

Judge Touhami Hafi announced the postponement of the trial against the exiled Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, on charges of illegal possessions of arms and drugs, in a statement to the court in Tunis.

Hosni Beji, one of the lawyers appointed to defend Ben Ali, told AFP he would himself have asked for the postponement to July 4.

"In any case we haven't been able to make contact with our client who is, as you know, in Saudi Arabia."

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January at the height of the popular uprising that toppled him and Riyadh has so far ignored Tunisia's demands for his extradition.

Beji said he wanted senior figures in the new Tunisian administration to appear in court to testify.

Some of those in court Thursday also expressed their discontent. Samir, while disappointed at the postponement, nevertheless described the process as a "show trial".

Lakhdar, 74, said that with Ben Ali safe in Saudi Arabia, the trial made no sense unless the new administration brought "the criminal" back for trial.

"It's not so much Ben Ali who should be judged now but his gang who is still active in the country," he added.

In the new case, the former president stands accused of drug possession and trafficking as well as weapons possession -- charges his Lebanese lawyer has dismissed as fanciful and insulting.

The weapons, says Ben Ali, were mostly gifts from foreign leaders and the two kilograms (4.4 pounds) of drugs in his office, a setup.

Thursday's postponement had been expected, as judges called a three-day strike from Tuesday in protest at what they said were threats and harassment from the justice ministry even after the fall of Ben Ali's regime.

The ministry had used "low and humiliating methods", the vice president of the SMT judges' union Boubaker Souguir told reporters on Wednesday. A ministry statement rejected the claims as without foundation.

Last week, a Tunis court sentenced Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi to 35 years in prison each for misappropriating public funds, after money and jewellery were found at their palace on the outskirts of Tunis.

But the 35-year sentence was criticised by rights groups and commentators: the conviction was handed down after only six hours' deliberation.

A joint statement by the International Federation of Human Rights last week the Tunisian League of Human Rights and the National Council for Freedoms welcomed the convictions.

The trial had not however taken place in the best conditions and "all efforts were not made to secure Ben Ali's extradition before the opening of the trial," the statement added.

Any future trials should focus on Ben Ali's human rights violations against Tunisians -- and take place with the defendant present, it added.

Ben Ali himself denounced his June 20 conviction as a "parody of justice" and "political liquidation," in a statement issued through his Paris-based lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne.

The ex-leader and his entourage face possible legal proceedings in no less 182 other cases.

In one, a military court is expected to consider charges relating to the 300 people killed during the uprising.

They also face trial on charges of torture, money laundering and trafficking of archaeological artefacts.

On Saturday, an appeal court doubled a two-year jail term imposed on Imed Trabelsi, Ben Ali's nephew, for a drugs offence, also increasing his fine from 2,000 dinars to 3,000 dinars (1,500 euros, $2,100).

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