Four sentenced to death for murder of Tunisia opposition leaderWed, 27 Mar 2024 08:28:15 GMT

Four people were condemned to death and two sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday after a decade-long investigation into the 2013 killing of Tunisian secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid.Tunisia still hands down death sentences, particularly in “terrorism” cases, even though a de facto moratorium in effect since 1991 means they are effectively commuted to life terms.Belaid’s assassination, which was claimed by jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group, dealt a heavy blow to the fledgling democracy established after the overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.The slow pace of the investigation triggered accusations of obstructionism against the then ruling Islamist party Ennahdha that have been used by secular President Kais Saied to justify his 2021 power grab that has seen the party outlawed.The court’s judgement was announced on national television early Wednesday after 15 hours of deliberation.In total, 23 people received sentences ranging from two to 120 years while five defendants were acquitted.Prosecutor Aymen Chtiba welcomed the sentences, saying: “Justice has been done”.A fierce critic of Ennahdha, Belaid was killed on February 6, 2013, in his car outside his home.Jihadists loyal to the Islamic State group claimed his killing, as well as that of another left-wing opposition figure, Mohamed Brahmi, six months later.In 2014, authorities announced that the suspected mastermind of Belaid’s assassination, Kamel Gadhgadhi, had been killed in a counterterrorism operation.- Inquiry into investigation -In June 2022, President Saied, who regularly refers to Belaid and Brahmi as “martyrs”, dismissed dozens of judges, some of whom he accused of obstructing the investigations into the 2013 killings. Last year, the justice ministry set up a special commission to carry out an “in-depth” study of the police and judicial investigations.Over the past decade, the men’s families and their lawyers have accused political parties and some judges of hindering the investigations.Those close to Belaid pointed the finger at Ennahdha, accusing the party of having been lenient towards the extremist discourse that had emerged at the time.The aftermath of the 2011 revolution saw a surge in Islamist radicalism in Tunisia with thousands of jihadist volunteers leaving to fight in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring Libya.Jihadist attacks in Sousse and the capital Tunis in 2015 killed dozens of tourists and police, although authorities say they have since made significant progress against the extremists.After the killings, Ennahdha pushed back against the accusations of excessive leniency, blacklisting the formerly legal Salafist movement Ansar al-Charia as a terrorist organisation.In a statement on Facebook Wednesday, the party welcomed the conclusion of the Belaid trial as a vindication of its repeated denials of any wrongdoing.The court had concluded “with certainty the innocence of the Ennahda movement”, despite “a desire among certain ideological currents and political parties to make false accusations,” the party said.