Tunisia sentences four to death for 2013 murder of politician Chokri Belaid

Leftist opposition leader’s assassination caused turmoil in wake of 2011 uprising that brought down President Ben Ali.

A court in Tunisia has sentenced four people to death and two to life imprisonment for their role in the assassination of opposition leader Chokri Belaid 11 years ago.

The sentences were confirmed on Wednesday by the deputy public prosecutor of the anti-terror judicial division. A total of 23 people had been charged in connection with the murder, with sentences ranging from two to 120 years handed down to other defendants, with five acquitted.

Dozens of Belaid supporters had gathered near the court in Tunis since Tuesday night, raising slogans demanding justice.

They chanted “Chokri is always alive” and “we are loyal to the blood of the martyrs”.

Belaid was shot dead in his car outside his home on February 6, 2013. The secretary-general of the Democratic Patriots Party was a fierce critic of the then-ruling Islamist party Ennahdha, claiming it had turned a blind eye to violence perpetrated by extremists against secularists.

His funeral was one of the largest public outpourings of grief in Tunisian history, with an estimated one million people taking to the streets, leading to massive protests.

unisians hold a placard with an image of the late secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession in the Jebel Jelloud district in Tunis
Tunisians hold a placard with an image of the late secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession in the Jebel Jelloud district in Tunis, on February 8, 2013 [Anis Mili/Reuters]

The assassination triggered one of the biggest political crises Tunisia had experienced in the wake of the 2011 uprising that brought down President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, casting doubt over the independence of the country’s judiciary and security forces.

Months later, a second opposition figure, pan-Arab leftist Mohamed Brahimi, was shot under similar circumstances, the ensuing political pressure forcing the government to step down.

The authorities blamed the killings on Ansar al-Sharia, a Salafist group suspected of links to al-Qaeda that was designated a terror organisation in August 2013.

Belaid’s family and secularist politicians accused Ennahda party leaders of being behind the assassination when they were leading the government.

Ennahda strongly denies any connection to the assassination. “The details concluded by the judicial circles clearly show evidence of the innocence of the Ennahda,” it said on Wednesday in a statement.

It added that the verdict should restore respect to those subject to false political accusations, most notably the leader of Ennahda, Rached Ghannouchi, recently sentenced to three years in prison amid a government crackdown on the opposition.

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