A Tunisian military prosecutor demanded the death penalty Wednesday for ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who is being tried in absentia over killings during last year’s popular uprising, an official said.
The prosecutor at the military tribunal also sought the “toughest penalties possible” for Ben Ali’s 22 co-defendants, ex-senior officials who are being prosecuted for the deaths of at least 22 people during the January 2011 pro-democracy protests in the towns of Thala and Kasserine.
It is the first time the death penalty has been sought against the ousted longtime dictator, although he has already been sentenced to more than 66 years in prison on a range of other charges including drug trafficking to torture and embezzlement.
Ben Ali was absent for those court cases, having fled Tunisia on January 14 to seek exile in Saudi Arabia.
The protest against his autocratic rule triggered what would become the Arab Spring uprisings that swept other strongmen from power across the Arab world.
Among those on trial in the case are former interior ministers Rafik Belhaj Kacem and Ahmed Friaa.
During the trial, none of the defendants has admitted giving the order to open fire on protesters and no one has named names.
Defense arguments are scheduled to get under way Thursday.
On Tuesday, Tunisia’s justice minister said he suspected Ben Ali was still benefiting from funds stashed abroad 16 months after his overthrow and urged Saudi Arabia to extradite the former president for trial.
Tunisia’s government has faced persistent criticism over its failure to persuade Saudi Arabia to hand over Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser whose lavish lifestyle and clique of wealthy relatives had come to be seen by many Tunisians as a symbol of the corrupt Ben Ali era.
During his 23 years in office, members of Ben Ali’s extended family are believed to have accumulated fortunes, stashing money in foreign accounts, while his security forces routinely arrested anyone who dared to dissent.