Tunisian MP and influential blogger Yassine Ayari imprisoned

He is the first MP to be prosecuted since parliamentary immunity was lifted by Kais Saied

A police officer stands guard outside the Parliament building in Tunisia's capital Tunis, following President Kais Saied's move to suspend the legislature. Reuters
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Independent Tunisian MP Yassine Ayari, an influential blogger during the 2011 uprising and active critic of both the military and the government, was arrested on Friday and sentenced to two months in jail, the General State Agency for Military Justice reported.

In a press release, the agency said Mr Ayari was jailed for a 2018 verdict against him in the Military Court of Appeal for “participating in an act aimed at destroying the morale of the army” after he published Facebook posts that were critical of the military.

Mr Ayari was taken from his home on Friday morning, one day after President Kais Saied signed a decree lifting immunity from prosecution for parliamentarians.

“Yassine Ayari was kidnapped from in front of his house and taken without invoking any document, judicial permission or informing his wife of where he was taken by a large group of aids defining themselves as 'presidential security'," Mr Ayari's political party, the Amal Movement, said in a statement.

Before being elected to the Tunisian Parliament as an independent in 2017, Mr Ayari had several times been tried and sentenced in military courts, despite being a civilian, for criticising the military and mocking its top brass online.

Mr Ayari spent more than four months in prison in 2015 after a military court convicted him of defaming the military high command on his Facebook account.

In 2018, an investigation was opened by a military court into whether he “published a Facebook post containing expressions likely to undermine the dignity of the military institution by criticising the decisions of its high commanders, in addition to defaming the president of the Republic, the commander of the military forces”.

The investigation led to a conviction for “defaming the army” due to a Facebook post made more than a year earlier which called then-president Beji Caid Essebsi a “clown” and claimed he used the military to suppress the population. Mr Ayari was sentenced to two months in prison.

Because Tunisian members of Parliament enjoyed prosecutorial immunity, Mr Ayari did not serve his sentence.

Mr Ayari was arrested and jailed for the 2018 charges after Mr Saied suspended parliamentary immunity Thursday, a promise he had campaigned on when elected in a landslide in 2019.

The independent MP has been openly critical of Mr Saied's recent move to freeze Parliament, sack the government and assume sole control of the country.

His recent posts to Facebook include a series under the title “Updates from a Populist Military Monarchy".

“This is a coup against the whole constitution,” Mr Ayari wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “[Mr Saied] made a constitution by himself and he is enforcing it with guns.”

Mr Saied has denied staging a coup and said this week that those who describe it as such need to “revise [their] constitutional lessons”.

A statement published on Facebook by Mokhtar Jemai, Mr Ayari's lawyer, said that Mr Ayari still has outstanding legal issues with the military court that were previously scheduled to be heard in October.

He said Mr Ayari's arrest on Friday “came for his recent opinions".

Updated: September 28, 2021, 11:16 AM