The drugs and gun running trial in absentia of Tunisia's ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has opened in the capital, Tunis. It was initially set to open on Friday but was pushed back following a Tunisian judges' strike.

Ben Ali was the first leader to be ousted in the "Arab Spring", and fled to Saudi Arabia in January following weeks of protests, a country that has so far failed to extradite Ben Ali, despite a request by Tunisia's new interim government.

Ben Ali's wife Leila Trabelsi was also convicted last week on the corruption charges as money and jewellery were found at their palace outside Tunis, which the police searched after the popular uprising forced the presidential couple to flee.

Following a first day of trial, they were then fined $66m (£41m) for embezzlement and misuse of public funds and Mr Ben Ali was sentenced to 35 years in jail.

Ben Ali denies harbouring drugs and weapons at his palace in Tunis during his rule and in court, his lawyer, Hosni Beji, described the drugs and gun-running charges as "irrational", before adding that he had a list of witnesses to prove Ben Ali never owned or kept drugs.

"How can we imagine that a president holding power can have two kilogrammes of cannabis resin of mediocre quality [with intentions] of selling it," the AFP news agency quotes him as saying.

However, the lawyer also insisted he needed more time with his client.

"I will ask for an adjournment to a date that will allow me to have contact with my client and his family and prepare with him" a solid defence, Beji said.

Mr Beji added that he has a list of witnesses that should be able to prove Ben Ali "never owned or kept drugs."

Regarding the weapons charges, Benji said most of the weapons found at Ben Ali's palace in the Carthage neighbourhood north of Tunis were personal gifts from high-ranking international officials. He cited the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Ben Abdel Aziz has amongst the officials that gave the former head of state weapons.

However, proving that the Tunisian people are still extremely angry at their former leader and those who support him, Reuters news agency reported that members of the public in the courtroom heckled Ben Ali's lawyers, shouting: "Get out! You have betrayed Tunisia by defending Ben Ali!" and "You should have defended the young people killed by Ben Ali's weapons!"

The former leader's lawyers walked out of the courtroom after the judge refused their request to delay the case so that they had more time to prepare their defence.

However, last week the former presidential couple's first sentence was highly criticised by rights groups and commentators, partly because the conviction was handed down after only six hours' deliberation.

Now that Ben Ali is sued for possession of marijuana with intention to sell, the trial is set to become even more bizarre. Surely, this does not represent the Tunisian people's primordial grievances. While the trial of the former Tunisian head of state could have been historical it is now turning into a joke. By the time the trial ends Ben Ali will probably be sentenced to hundreds of years of prison but will almost certainly never even have to set a foot in one.

While the Tunisian judicial system was here given a chance to prove it was now free from the presidential pressure and its dictates, has it succumbed to the new interim government's demands for a hasty trial?

Ben Ali's presidency was marred by human rights abuses and a lack of democracy, not by his incline for marijuana, so it does sound right for the prosecution to focus on the human rights violations he committed rather than on his drug habits.