TUNIS (Reuters) - The lawyer of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali denied on Thursday that the deposed Tunisian leader had given orders to fire on protesters during last year’s revolution and condemned a Tunisian prosecutor’s calls for the death penalty.
A Tunisian military prosecutor demanded on Wednesday that the death penalty be imposed in absentia on Ben Ali over his role in the deaths of protesters in the central towns where the Arab Spring began last year.
Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia as protests swept Tunisia on January 14, 2011, has already been sentenced to decades in jail on charges ranging from corruption to torture.
No senior officials have so far been convicted over the deaths of more than 300 people in the Tunisian revolution, causing much anger among their families and raising pressure on the Tunisian government to ensure they get justice.
But even if Ben Ali is convicted in the deaths, there is little indication that Riyadh would be willing to extradite him.
Ben Ali’s Beirut-based lawyer Akram Azoury said in a statement talk of the death penalty was politically motivated.
“The Tunisian military prosecution’s call for the death penalty... has a political rather than a judicial character and lays the ground for sentences that do not meet international standards like the sentences that were passed before,” he said.
“All the officials questioned in this regard totally denied that president Ben Ali had given orders to use live rounds,” Azoury said, urging the court to listen to all the taped conversations that took place between the presidential palace and the interior and defense ministries during the revolt.
“If the president is convicted despite this and in line with the demands of the public prosecution then such sentences will have no judicial value or international effect,” he said.
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.
More than 20 officials, including Ben Ali, are facing charges at the military court in the western town of Kef over their role in the killing of protesters.
The prosecutor has demanded the toughest penalties for those officials, who include former interior minister Rakif Belhaj Kacem, but has only specified capital punishment for Ben Ali.
No date has yet been set for the verdicts.
Reporting by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Myra MacDonald