The Tunisian government is “not happy” about a decision by a court in Tunis to hand suspended two-year sentences to 20 people who attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia last year, a Tunisian official said on Friday.
The verdict “does not represent the policy of the government,” Zied Ladhari, who is a member of the Constituent Assembly and the political bureau of Tunisia’s ruling Ennahda party, said at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Friday.
“We are not actually happy about the verdict, but we have to keep in mind the importance of the reforms and the very substantial and radical reforms to be implemented in the security forces and the judicial system in Tunisia,” he said.
“Today the judiciary is independent, we cannot interfere in the judgment, but the government took the right political decision by making an appeal against that judgment, so the people remain in prison for the moment,” he said.
Hundreds of protesters, angry over a film made in the U.S. that insulted Islam’s prophet Muhammad, attacked the U.S. Embassy in Tunis with petrol bombs and stones on Sept. 14, 2012.
Four people were killed and dozens injured in a police crackdown on the protesters.
This week, a lawyer for 20 people convicted in the attack said after an unusually short half-day trial that his clients had received a two-year suspended prison sentence. Verdicts are not announced in court in Tunisia.
The U.S. Embassy in Tunis said it was “deeply troubled” by reports of the suspended sentences and asked for a full investigation that would bring to justice those who organized the attack.
“The verdicts do not correspond appropriately to the extent and severity of the damage and violence that took place,” the embassy said.
“Through its actions, the government of Tunisia must also demonstrate that there is no tolerance for those that encourage and use violence to meet their objectives,” the embassy said. “The May 28 decision fails in this regard.”
Mr. Ladhari said the Tunisian government is hopeful that the “course of the appeal will take the right decision and send the right signal reflecting the policy of the government and the thought of the people in Tunisia who are against such violent acts.”
“We hope that this will also send the right signal for our partners, including the United States, about the strong will of the government to act against all of those who can destabilize the country and can pose a threat to our friends and our partners,” he added.