A Tunisian military court has sentenced Yassin al-Ayari, a member of Parliament from the Hope and Action movement, to 10 months in prison, on charges “including insulting the President of the Republic.”
In a statement, Hope and Action said that the ruling concerned “charges relating to committing a heinous act against the President of the Republic, making false claims about a public official, and harming army morale.”
Al-Ayari’s sentence follows his making several posts on Facebook in which he described President Kais Saied’s various exceptional measures as a “coup.”
Al-Ayari was absent from the court session, since he refused to be tried before the military court, given that he is a civilian.
A member of al-Ayari’s defence team, Malek Ben Omar, said that “the verdict was issued in absentia on Monday by the Permanent Military Court of First Instance in Tunis, following several critical posts in which [al-Ayari] described what happened on 25 July as ‘a coup’.”
“What al-Ayari’s posts contained was a description of an established fact, given the presence of tanks stationed outside parliament”, said Ben Omar.
“The verdict is preliminary”, and “subject to appeal”, he added.
On 30 July 2021, security forces arrested and detained al-Ayari on the basis of a military court ruling, according to which he should have been released in September 2021.
This more recent ruling comes amidst the political crisis that has wracked Tunisia since 25 July 2021, when Saied imposed a series of “exceptional” measures, including freezing Parliament, dismissing the prime minister and appointing a new cabinet, and legislating by presidential decree
Since the measures were announced, journalists and media groups have been subject to restrictions, arrests, and even prosecution.
Moreover, since 25 July 2021 security forces have arrested a number of members of the Tunisian Parliament, which has raised fears amongst human rights groups that the country has entered a new period of dictatorship, especially since some of those arrests were followed by military tribunals.