Today, Tuesday 17 May, a military court in Tunis issued prison sentences, ranging in length from three to six months, against several defendants in the so-called “airport affair”.
According to a member of the defence team, Samir Dilo, the head of the Dignity Coalition, which had 18 deputies in the previous parliament, Seifeddine Makhlouf, was sentenced to five months in prison. Another defendant, Mahdi Zagrouba, was sentenced to six months in prison.
Other members of the Coalition, Maher Zaid and Muhammad al-Afas, were sentenced to three months in prison. Another member, Nidal Saudi, was sentenced to five months.
On 15 March last year, Tunis’ international airport saw a dispute between airport security and several Coalition deputies, after the latter group defended a female passenger as she was prevented from leaving the country “for security reasons.”
The ordinance that was used to prevent her leaving, ‘S17’, was used by the Ben Ali regime against those alleged to be linked to terrorist organisations.
Dilo is reported as saying that, “a three-month prison sentence was also given to a passenger, Lotfi al-Majri, who documented the incident.” One Coalition member, Abdellatif al-Alawi, was acquitted.
“The verdicts were issued after a session without any hearings or pleadings”, Dilo has said.
“The charges against them [the defendants] are assault with violence, and attack against a public official.”
Makhlouf has previously claimed that members of the Coalition were being targeted by the current Tunisian President Kais Saied’s regime. Saied’s annulling of deputies’ legal privilege was a key step in Coalition members being tried by a military court.
Today’s ruling occurs at a time of crisis in Tunisia, after Saied’s imposition of “exceptional” measures last July, including the freezing of parliament, removing the prime minister, and legislating by decree.
Since Saied’s measures came into effect, journalists and media institutions in the country have been subjected to restrictions, arrests, and various judicial campaigns.
Security forces have arrested a number of parliamentarians, raising the fear that Tunisia is entering a new, authoritarian period. A general disregard for the law and citizens’ rights, and in particular, the use of military courts to judge civil cases against politicians, have further stoked fears.