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Military court sentences Tunisian blogger to six months in jail

Tunisian blogger's original sentencing of three years in jail for insulting military has been rescinded to six months
Tunisian protesters shout slogans in front of the military tribunal in Tunis on 20 January during a trial of Tunisian blogger and journalist Yassine Ayari (AFP)

Prominent Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari was sentenced by a Tunisian military appeal court to six months in prison for “insulting the military”.

Ayari, 33, was arrested upon his arrival at the Tunis-Carthage airport from France on 24 December 2014 where he was informed that he had been convicted in absentia on 18 November 2014 to three years for posting articles criticising the Tunisian army.

His sentencing was reduced in January to one year, before his defence team filed for an appeal. Ayari had published posts in August and September last year condemning Tunisia’s defence minister for weakening military institutions and refusing to appoint a new head for military intelligence.

“The verdict is harsh and unfair and constitutes a serious violation of freedom of expression,” Abdel-Raaof Ayadi, Ayari’s lawyer told the Anadolu Agency.

According to the lawyer, the trial should have been referred to a civilian court in line with laws regulating press freedoms.

Last month, the court refused a legal motion calling for his release filed by his 15-lawyer defence team, with prosecutors insisting that he serve out a jail term that was cut to one year following an earlier appeal by his lawyers.

Ayari’s sentencing fell under Article 91 of the Code of Military Justice, which prohibits attacks on the “dignity, reputation and morale” of the army. Additionally, the code bans actions that weaken military discipline, obedience and respect for superiors, as well as criticising high military command actions or officers.

Ayari was a prominent blogger during Tunisia's 2011 popular uprising, which culminated in the ouster of autocratic President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. He was highly critical of Nidaa Tounes, which won October's landmark general election, and of the party's leader Beji Caid Essebsi who became president in December. Essebsi is a veteran politician who served under previous Tunisian governments.

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