By Tarek Amara
TUNIS (Reuters) – A Tunisian military appeal court on Friday sentenced Seifeddine Makhlouf, a lawyer and prominent opponent of President Kais Saied, to a year in jail and banned him from his job for five years for insulting a judge, his lawyer told Reuters.
Saied has been facing increasing opposition since he seized power last year, dissolving parliament and ruling by decree in a move his opponents called a coup. Critics say he seeks to consolidate one-man rule.
“The verdict is a real farce. … This is the judiciary that Saied wants.. a judiciary that he could control it and use it against opponents,” Makhlouf’s lawyer, Anouar Awled Ali, said.
The authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Earlier this year, Saied replaced the Supreme Judicial Council with a temporary council. In early June he sacked dozens of judges, accusing them of corruption and protecting terrorists in a move the judges’ unions said allows him to influence the judiciary and create vacancies to appoint his loyalists.
Judges entered a second week of strikes on June 9 in protest.
The Judicial Council had acted as the main guarantor of judicial independence since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution which ushered in democracy.
Makhlouf is the leader of the conservative Karama party and a frequent critic of the president in the dissolved parliament.
Since Saied’s intervention, several senior politicians and business leaders have been detained or prosecuted, many of them on charges of corruption or defamation.
International human rights groups have criticized some of the arrests and the use of military courts to hear cases.
Saied has promised to uphold the rights and freedoms won in Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which triggered “Arab Spring” uprisings across the region.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Leslie Adler)