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Tunisia sentences 4 to death over politician's assassination

March 27, 2024

A Tunisia court has sentenced four people to death over the murder of prominent political leader Chokri Belaid. His death in 2013 sparked mass protests against the country's then-ruling Islamists.

A Tunisian protester lifts a placard demanding to know who assassinated prominent leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid
Belaid's supporters blamed the then-ruling party for taking an overly accommodating approach toward extremistsImage: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

A court in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, sentenced four people to death on Wednesday over the assassination of secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

Belaid's assassination was claimed by jihadis loyal to the so-called "Islamic State" militant group. It was a severe blow to Tunisia's young democracy after the 2011 overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

What do we know about the case?

Leftist politician Belaid had been fiercely critical of the Islamist Ennahda party that led the government at the time, which he accused of appeasing Islamist violence against secularists. The 48-year-old was the leader of the Popular Front coalition. 

He was shot dead in his car, leading to violent protests at an already turbulent time just after the Arab Spring in 2011. It is thought to have been the first political assassination in decades, and came just months before another leftist, Mohamed Brahmi, was also shot dead.

Despite a de facto moratorium, Tunisia still announces death sentences, particularly in "terrorism" cases. However, such penalties are effectively commuted to lifetime prison terms.

Belaid's family and his fellow secularist politicians accused party leaders from Ennahda of being involved in the assassination.

Although Belaid had a modest political following, his criticism of Ennahda and its policies resonated with many Tunisians. They feared that religious zealots would extinguish freedoms won in the first of revolts of the Arab Spring.

What is the political situation in Tunisia?

The political influence of Ennahda was cut short in 2021 when President Kais Saied put in motion a sweeping power grab. Elected in 2019, Saied is expected to seek a second term in a yet-to-be-scheduled election. 

Is Tunisia slipping back into dictatorship?

He launched a power grab in July 2021, dismissing the prime minister and suspending parliament.

Tunisia was the first country in which protests erupted after a fruit and vegetable vendor set fire to himself in response to the confiscation of his wares and alleged harassment.

rc/wmr (AFP, AP, Reuters)