Former Tunisian leader Moncef Marzouki sentenced to eight years in jail.

Former Tunisian leader Moncef Marzouki sentenced to eight years in jail.

The Tunisian court has given a prison sentence of eight years to Moncef Marzouki, the former president, in his absence. This is a part of the government’s efforts to suppress those who oppose President Kais Saied.

Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, a well-known opposition leader, was given a six-month prison sentence.

According to court spokesperson Mohamed Zitouna, authorities have stated that Marzouki broke laws regarding incitement and advocated for the government to be overthrown. This was reported to Tunisia’s state news agency, TAP, on Friday evening.

According to his lawyer, Samir Ben Amor, the verdict demonstrates the government’s increasingly strict stance towards dissenters.

Marzouki was the inaugural president of Tunisia from 2011 to 2014, following the resignation and exile of authoritarian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali due to nationwide demonstrations during the Arab Spring. A longstanding advocate for human rights, Marzouki has openly opposed Saied’s actions to strengthen his own authority and alter Tunisia’s constitution since the Arab Spring.

The court did not specify the exact statements made by Marzouki, but they were accused of instigating an attack with the goal of overthrowing the government. It was also alleged that they incited people to use weapons against each other and sparked chaos, violence, and looting within Tunisia.

He has consistently urged foreign powers to stop supporting Tunisia during the current reversal of the country’s progress towards democracy. He also referred to Saied as a dictator who should be removed from power.

Marzouki has been convicted for a second time for comments made during protests and on social media. He was previously sentenced to four years in December 2021 for jeopardizing state security.

Marzouki is one of over 20 individuals who oppose the current political regime and have faced legal action or imprisonment since Saied took control in 2021 by suspending parliament and altering the nation’s constitution. Saied has dismissed accusations of a coup, which have been made by his opponents, including Marzouki. In a 2021 referendum with low voter turnout, his alterations to the constitution were approved.

Ben Amor questioned whether it is acceptable in a democratic nation for someone to face prosecution solely for voicing their opinions and perspectives on their country’s political matters, in reference to Marzouki’s conviction.

In the past, Saied has referred to individuals who make statements like Marzouki’s as “traitors to the nation” and has urged authorities to look into their actions. He has also taken action against other individuals, such as Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, businessman and former presidential candidate Nabil Karoui, and Free Destourian party leader Abir Moussi, who may potentially run for president in 2024.

“The gains made by the revolution have been hindered by (Saied’s) takeover of authority,” stated Ennahda representative Imed Khemiri. “Basic freedoms have declined, limitations have been placed on political party actions, adversaries have faced legal action, and the impartiality of the judicial system has been brought into doubt.”

According to his lawyer and sister Dalila Ben Mbarek, Ben Mbarek, a prominent member of the National Salvation Front opposition coalition, received a six-month prison sentence for speaking out against the 2022 parliamentary election. He has been a vocal critic of Saied.

Last year, he was arrested under the belief that he was involved in a plot against the government. This was due to his involvement in creating the organization “Citizens against the coup d’├ętat” with other politicians and human rights activists, as a form of direct opposition to Saied’s administration.

Last September, he and other political prisoners initiated a hunger strike to demand their release from incarceration.

Saied, who is 65 years old, has referred to Ben Mbarek and his colleagues as “terrorists” and has alleged that they are involved in a plot to threaten the security of the state.

In the previous year, Khalifa Guesmi, a journalist from Tunisia, was sentenced to five years in prison for covering the arrests made in the country related to counter-terrorism.

Amnesty International, along with other organizations defending human rights, have voiced their criticism of the arrests. Heba Morayef, Director for North Africa at the organization, has denounced them as a means to suppress political opposition and instill fear in potential opponents.