Tunisia arrests blogger for defaming officers

2014-12-25 21:56
Tunisian presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi, aged 88, gives a speech during his presidential election campaign. (Fethi Belaid, AFP)

Tunisian presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi, aged 88, gives a speech during his presidential election campaign. (Fethi Belaid, AFP)

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Tunis - Tunisian authorities have arrested a blogger who has been critical of the party of newly elected president Beji Caid Essebsi, as he returned home from France, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Yassine Ayari, 33, was detained overnight at Tunis-Carthage airport and whisked to jail in line with a court verdict pronounced against him last month.

On 18 November Ayari was tried in absentia on charges of "defaming" army officers and sentenced to three years in jail.

But according to his lawyer Sami Ben Amor, the blogger, who was living in France at the time, was unaware of the verdict against him.

Ayari has denied the charges against him and a new hearing in the case has been set for 6 January, Ben Amor said.

"This case undermines freedom of speech and is the first of its kind to emerge under the reign of Beji Caid Essebsi," said the lawyer, adding that "Yassine Ayari is paying the price of his political views".

Essebsi, an 88-year old anti-Islamist politician, won Tunisia's first free presidential election on Sunday, capping off the transition to democracy in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

His victory follows October legislative polls won by his Nidaa Tounes party.

In recent months, Ayari had published blogs very critical of Nidaa Tounes.

Essebsi is a veteran politician who served under previous Tunisian regimes, including in the government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was ousted in the 2011 uprising.

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