Amnesty International deplored the upholding of the death sentence against one of 30 men convicted of terrorism by the Tunis Appeal Court and the fact that serious breaches of their rights to a fair trial were not addressed, including the failure to order a retrial for all the defendants. The organization however acknowledged the commuting of the death sentence of one of the men.
“The Appeal Court had an opportunity to remedy the gross deficiencies that marred this case from the outset, but it failed to rise to that challenge,” said Denys Robiliard, a leading French lawyer who observed the proceedings on Amnesty International’s behalf. “These defendants faced very serious charges but their trial, and now the appeal, breached basic guarantees required under international law.”
Early today, following marathon overnight sessions that started in the morning of 19 February, the Appeal Court commuted the death sentence of Imed Ben Amor to life imprisonment but upheld the one against Saber Ragoubi. Both had been sentenced to death in December 2007 by the Tunis Court of First Instance after they and 28 others were convicted of murder, belonging to a terrorist organisation and other offences. The other 28 received prison terms ranging from three years to life imprisonment.
The trial – known as the Soliman case – arose from armed clashes near the town of Soliman which occurred in December 2006 and January 2007 between Tunisian security forces and members of an armed group called the Soldiers of Assad Ibn al-Fourat. All the leaders of the armed group are reported to have been among the 14 people killed in the clashes, along with two members of the security forces. The Soldiers of Assad Ibn al-Fourat group is said to be linked to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, an armed group reputedly responsible for terrorist attacks in Algeria.
The 30 defendants were arrested in December 2006 and January 2007 and first appeared before the Tunis Court of First Instance in November 2007. Their trial was marked by serious violations of the right to a fair trial. In particular, defence lawyers were given insufficient time to examine the court papers and prepare the defence case, and the court failed adequately to investigate defendants’ allegations that they were tortured and forced to “confess” during pre-trial detention. Defence lawyers repeatedly urged the court to order that they be medically examined for signs of torture, but the court refused to do so. When defence lawyers walked out of the court in protest at one stage, the defendants, who all deny the charges against them, were assaulted by security officials in full view of the court. Under international law, information obtained through torture may never be admitted into judicial procedures.
“This case has been a travesty and the verdicts and sentences should not be allowed to stand,” said Malcolm Smart, director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. “The Tunisian authorities must now remedy this miscarriage of justice and order that the case is sent for re-trial, so that true justice can be done.”
“The death sentence, if carried out, would constitute a violation of the right to life of Saber Ragoubi.”