4 sentenced to death for 2013 assassination of Tunisia politician

  • A Tunisian court has issued sentences following the murder of left-wing politician Chokri Belaid.
  • Four people received death sentences, while two were sentenced to life in prison.
  • Belaid, leader of the Popular Front coalition, was assassinated in February 2013, sparking widespread protests and political upheaval.

A Tunisian court sentenced four people to death and two to life in prison on charges stemming from the murder of a left-wing politician, a public prosecutor said Wednesday.

Chokri Belaid, the 48-year-old leader of the Popular Front coalition, was shot in his car outside his home in Tunis in February 2013. His assassination, the country’s first in decades, prompted mass protests and helped lead to the resignation of the then-prime minister.

The case was reopened last month after a former investigating judge was arrested on suspicion of concealing certain files. Wednesday’s verdict came after hours of late night delays and lengthy deliberations due to “the complexity of the very thorny case,” said Mohamed Jmour, a member of Belaid’s defense committee.

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Before his death, Belaid had earned a following for his forceful criticisms of Ennahda, the Islamist party that rose to power after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali became the first dictator toppled in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. His supporters blamed the party for taking an overly accommodating approach toward extremists after his assassination.

Chokri Belaid

Politician Chokri Belaid is seen speaking during a radio interview on Nov. 20, 2012, in Tunis. A Tunisian court sentenced four people to death and two to life in prison on charges stemming from Belaid’s murder, a public prosecutor said Wednesday. (KHALIL/AFP via Getty Images)

Ennahda leaders classified Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist group after the killing of another left-wing politician, Mohammed Brahmi, later that year. Law enforcement killed several alleged members of the al-Qaeda-linked group suspected of involvement in Belaid’s death.

Several members of Ansar al Sharia were sentenced, including Mohamed Aouadi, the head of its military arm; Mohamed Khiari, the head of its field surveillance and information arm.

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The assassinations and subsequent unrest set off a political crisis for Tunisia as it struggled to transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Two dozen defendants were ultimately charged in a sprawling case that took years to investigate and bring to trial. One died in prison. Of the 23 defendants sentenced on Wednesday, five were acquitted while others received sentences ranging from two to 120 years.

Aymen Chtiba, a deputy prosecutor in the terrorism court’s judicial unit, said the dismissals had to do with the similarity of sentences already handed down against some defendants in other cases.

Belaid’s brother Abdelmajid Belaid called the verdict “a positive step” and said that supporters were still awaiting the trial of those suspected of planning the assassination.

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