A Military Court Convicts Tunisian Opposition Activist Chaima Issa Of Undermining Security

Chaima Issa, a leading figure in the coalition of parties opposed to President Kais Saied, flashes a victory sign outside of a military court in Tunis, Tunisia on Tuesday, December 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi).

PARIS (AP) — A military court in Tunisia convicted a prominent opposition activist of undermining state security and gave her a one-year suspended prison sentence Wednesday, according to a defense lawyer.

The lawyer representing Chaima Issa denounced the verdict but expressed satisfaction that she would remain free and plans to appeal.

“Chaima Issa should have been acquitted because all she did was to peacefully use her right to freedom of expression,” attorney Samir Dilou told The Associated Press.

Public prosecutors began investigating Issa, a leader in a coalition of parties opposed to President Kais Saied, after she criticized authorities on Tunisia’s most prominent radio station in February. She was jailed from that month to July.

According to her lawyer, Issa was charged with spreading fake news and accused of trying to incite the military to disobey orders and undermine public security as part of an alleged plot hatched after she met with foreign diplomats and other opposition figures.

She criticized the charges as politically motivated before walking into the military court hearing on Tuesday.

After the military court rendered its decision Wednesday, human rights group Amnesty International urged Tunisian authorities to “quash this outrageous conviction immediately.”

“Issa, much like dozens of other critics who are being judicially harassed or arbitrarily detained for months, is guilty of nothing more than questioning the decisions made by a government that, from the outset, has demonstrated an unwillingness to tolerate any form of dissent,” the group said in a statement.

Critics of the Tunisian president have increasingly faced prosecution and arrests. More than 20 have been charged in military courts with “plotting against state security.”

Tunisians overthrew a repressive regime in 2011 in the first uprising of the region-wide movement that later became known as the Arab Spring. The nation of 12 million people became a success story after it adopted a new constitution and held democratic elections.

But since taking office in 2019, Saied has sacked prime ministers, suspended the country’s parliament and rewritten the constitution to consolidate his power.

A range of activists and political party leaders have been jailed, including Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist movement Ennahda.