A Tunisian military court has sentenced blogger Yassine Ayari to a year in prison for defaming the military, in a case that has been criticised by human rights groups.

The sentence was handed down on Tuesday, but Ayari, 33, was arrested on December 25 on his return from Paris, following an initial three-year sentence passed the previous month in his absence.

Ayari told the court before the new ruling that the charges were a "settling of scores against me for criticising officers in the army".

He had accused officers and Defence Ministry officials of financial abuse.

"Today's one year prison sentence imposed on Yassine Ayari by a military court exposes the extent of the limits on freedom of expression in Tunisia," the London-based rights group Amnesty International said.

It said that during the session, when defence lawyers complained that journalists were not allowed to be present at the re-trial, the court's president, who is a civil judge, responded by saying: "This not a court, this is a [military] barracks." 

Dozens of protesters gathered outside the court demanding Ayari's immediate release, saying the conviction was a violation of freedom of expression.

Appeal planned

The demonstrators chanted "Down with military trials" and "No return to dictatorship".

The defence team said it planned to appeal.

"Freedom of expression is the only benefit of the revolution and today we see a blogger sentenced harshly by a military court for criticising the army," Malek Ben Amor, his lawyer, said.

Ayari was also an activist during the rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the long-serving president who was overthrown in a 2011 uprising that spurred the Arab Spring revolts.

In recent months, he had published blogs critical of the Nidaa Tounes party, which won Tunisia's first-post revolution parliamentary elections in October.

New York-based Human Rights Watch has described the case against him as "not worthy of the new Tunisia".

It has urged parliament to reform laws that lead to imprisonment for defaming or insulting state institutions, and to remove jurisdiction of military courts over civilians.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies