The Tunisian authorities must halt growing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, Amnesty International said after a military court handed down a four-month suspended prison sentence to a former presidential adviser for criticizing the army.
The military court in the capital Tunis on Friday found Ayoub Massoudi guilty of "undermining the reputation of the army" and "defaming a civil servant" after he publicly criticized the extradition of former Libyan prime minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi to Libya in June.
Ayoub Massoudi, who resigned from his post of adviser to President Moncef Marzouki two days after the extradition, was also given a symbolic DT1 fine. He intends to appeal the sentence.
"Friday's verdict against Ayoub Massoudi is yet another blow to the right to freedom of expression in Tunisia and should be quashed immediately," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“The Tunisian authorities must act to ensure that all Tunisians are able to criticize the authorities and public institutions without fear of harassment or retribution and to bring Tunisian legislation in line with its international human rights obligations.”
"Ayoub Massoudi’s right to a fair trial has also been undermined because he has been convicted by a military tribunal. International human rights standards are clear that civilians should not be prosecuted before military courts.”
Although Tunisia's code of military justice was reformed in 2011, military courts are still not restricted to trying offences of a purely military nature committed by military personnel.
The charges against Ayoub Massoudi were brought after he publicly criticized the extradition of Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, saying that the Tunisian President had not been adequately informed of the extradition by Tunisia's chief of the armed forces and Defence Minister.
Amnesty International condemned the extradition, which put the former Libyan prime minister at risk of serious human rights violations, and which President Moncef Marzouki himself said he had not authorized as required by Tunisian law.
The extradition of Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi to Libya raised serious concerns about its conformity to Tunisia’s obligations under the UN Convention on Torture as well as the extradition procedure under Tunisian law.