[JURIST] The lawyer representing former Tunisian president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Sunday denied the numerous charges facing his client, which range from murder and conspiracy to drug use. Ben Ali's trial in absentia before civilian and military courts is set to begin on Monday [VOA report]. If convicted, Ben Ali could face a long prison sentence. The charges stem mostly from allegations that Ben Ali authorized the use of force against protesters during the Tunisian revolution, resulting in more than 200 deaths. Justice Minister Lazhar Karoui Chebbi [profile, in French] announced the issuance of an arrest warrant for Ben Ali in January, though the country has not received a response to its request to extradite [JURIST reports] the former leader from Saudi Arabia, where he remains in exile.
The charges against Ben Ali came after advocacy groups Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] called for the Tunisian transitional government to investigate incidents of police violence against protesters and end police brutality [JURIST reports]. In January, the Tunisian Constitutional Council officially announced that Ben Ali had permanently left the office of the presidency after he declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] amid nationwide protests, banning public gatherings and allowing police to fire on anyone refusing to obey orders, and fled the country. The leader of the lower house of parliament, Foued Mebezza, assumed power as interim president [JURIST report] and is expected to remain in power until elections are held, which Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi [Reuters profile] has indicated will be within the next several months.