TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian military prosecutor demanded on Wednesday that the death penalty be imposed in absentia on ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali over his alleged role in the deaths of protesters in the towns where the Arab Spring began.
Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia as protests swept Tunisa on January 14, 2011, has already been sentenced to decades in jail on charges ranging from corruption to torture.
He has not so far been convicted of any charges that carry the death penalty, which is rarely carried out in the North African country.
The state TAP news agency said the prosecutor in the western town of Kef also called for maximum penalties to be imposed on all those charged in connection with the deaths of protesters in the towns of Kasserine, Tala, Kairouan and Tajrouine.
More than 300 people were killed and many more wounded during the uprising that ousted Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring revolts across the region.
Two policemen have so far been sentenced for killing a protester but no senior officials have yet been convicted over the deaths, causing much anger among victims’ families.
Tunisia’s government has faced persistent criticism over its failure to persuade Saudi Arabia to hand over Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser whose lavish lifestyle and clique of wealthy relatives had come to be seen by many Tunisians as symbols of Ben Ali’s corrupt rule.
During his 23 years in office, members of Ben Ali’s extended family are believed to have accumulated fortunes, stashing money in foreign accounts, while his security forces arrested anyone who dared to dissent.
Tunisia’s justice minister told Reuters on Tuesday that he believed Ben Ali was still benefiting from the hidden funds.
Defense lawyers at Wednesday’s hearing dismissed calls for the death penalty as having no basis in law, TAP said.
Former interior minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem is among those facing charges over the deaths.
Reporting by Lin Noueihed; editing by Andrew Roche