Prosecutors had sought the death penalty for Ben Ali, who is exiled in Saudi Arabia, over the killing of 22 people while trying to put down the revolt in the two central cities of Thala and Kasserine. The ruling came after a six-month trial at the military court in Kef, about 170 kilometres (105 miles) west of Tunis. Former interior minister Rafik Belhaj Kacem was also sentenced to 12 years in jail over the case.
Earlier, a Tunis military court sentenced Ben Ali in absentia to 20 years imprisonment on various charges including incitement to murder. Ben Ali was found guilty of "inciting disorder, murder and looting," the court said in its verdict over the deaths of four youths, shot dead in the town of Ouardanine in mid-Jan 2011. The weeks of protests that started in Dec 2010 toppled one of the most entrenched autocratic regimes in the Arab world and led to democratic elections in October that saw a moderate Islamist party rise to power.
The strongman's ouster toppled the first domino in the wave of protests which became known as the Arab Spring and is still sweeping the region. Ben Ali faces countless trials and has already been sentenced to more than 66 years in prison on a range of other charges including drug trafficking and embezzlement. He and his wife are the subject of an international arrest warrant, but Saudi authorities have not responded to Tunisian extradition requests.