A Tunisian court has sentenced former President Moncef Marzouki in absentia to four years in prison for “assaulting” the security of the state, according to state media.
The 76-year-old, who currently lives in France, had previously criticised President Kais Saied and called for protests.
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Local media on Wednesday said he was found guilty of “undermining the security of the state from abroad” and of having caused “diplomatic harm”.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, Marzouki rejected the ruling as illegal, saying it was “issued by an illegitimate president who overturned the constitution”.
He said the accusations against him are a “reversal of the facts” and instead apply to Saied, who in July seized sweeping executive powers.
Marzouki also said it was his “destiny to fight against a dictatorship” in his country until the end of his life, but indicated that he would not ask any lawyer to appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile, his lawyer, Lamia Khemiri, told AFP news agency that Marzouki had not received any summons to court and she also did not know why he was convicted.
‘Enemies of Tunisia’
Saied, a former constitutional law professor, was elected president in 2019. On July 25, after months of political and economic crisis, he sacked the government, suspended parliament and launched a wide-ranging crackdown on corruption.
In September, he further tightened his grip on power by brushing aside most of the 2014 democratic constitution to say he could rule by decree during a period of exceptional measures, and promised a dialogue on further changes. Earlier this month, he declared parliament would remain frozen until new elections on December 17 next year. He has also announced an 11-week “popular consultation” to produce “draft constitutional and other reforms” before a referendum is held on July 25, 2022, on a new constitution.
Marzouki has described Saied’s move as a coup, called for protests against him and urged that a major international meeting of French-speaking countries be moved from Tunisia.
He has also used regular television appearances and social media to launch withering broadsides against Saied, whom he has called a “dictator”.
During an early October demonstration in Paris, Marzouki, in a reference to Saied, called on the French government to “reject all support for this regime and this man who plotted against the revolution and abolished the constitution”.
Saied has rejected accusations of a coup. He has said Marzouki is among the “enemies of Tunisia”, and asked the courts to investigate statements he had made, as well as to withdraw his diplomatic passport.
Foreign donors needed to help address a looming crisis in Tunisia’s public finances have urged Saied to restore normal constitutional order and say democracy and freedom of speech are important to their relationship with the North African country.
After Tunisia’s 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, an elected assembly appointed Marzouki as the interim president, overseeing the transition to a new constitution in 2014.
Marzouki is no stranger to being brought to court under different presidents. He was tried at least seven times under the late President Habib Bourguiba, and was sentenced to 11 months in absentia during the rule of the late President Zine EL Abidine Ben Ali.