A Tunisian military court on Wednesday convicted former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile] in absentia on torture charges. Ben Ali and eight others were found guilty [Reuters report] of the torture of 17 military generals in connection with a 1991 coup attempt. Ben Ali was sentenced to five years in prison. This week's sentence adds to a 35-year prison sentence handed down in June after his conviction in absentia on charges of theft and illegal possession [JURIST report] of money, jewelry, drugs and weapons. Ben Ali, who remains in exile in Saudi Arabia, has denied the charges [JURIST report] against him. His most recent conviction resulted from the first trial held against a former Tunisian government official since the new democratically-elected government took power earlier this year.
Tunisia has been cracking down Ben Ali and his relatives since the ousted president fled the country amidst the protests that ended his 23-year autocratic rule. Ben Ali has claimed that he was "duped" into leaving [AFP report] the capital Tunis, according to a statement released through his lawyer, and that he was trying to get his family out of the country after assassination threats and that the plane left him in Saudi Arabia despite orders to wait for him. In February, the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs [official website] submitted a formal request to Saudi Arabian authorities to extradite Ben Ali following the filing of additional charges of money laundering and possession of unlicensed weapons. The Tunisian Constitutional Council officially announced that Ben Ali had permanently left the office of the presidency in January, after he declared a state of emergency [JURIST report] during the nationwide protests that resulted in more than 200 deaths.