Tunisian lawyer Mohamed Abbou released from prison

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mohamed Saad, Ambassador of Tunisia
Embassy of Tunisia in Canada
515 O'Connor Street
Ottawa, Ontario, K1S 3P8

July 25, 2007

Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE is delighted to hear of Mohamed Abbou's release from prison after being detained in Tunisia's El Kef prison for more than two years.

Abbou, a lawyer and human rights defender, was apprehended on March 1, 2005, only a day after posting an opinion piece online, protesting the Tunisian government's decision to invite Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the World Summit on the Information Society. On April 28, 2005, he was sentenced to three and a half years imprisonment for publishing statements "likely to disturb public order" and for "defaming the judicial process" as well as alleged "violence" against a female lawyer close to the government. The piece used to indict Abbou was an article he posted in August 2004 in which he compared prison conditions in Tunisia to those of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. According to human rights defenders and diplomats, his trial fell short of international standards for a fair trial.

Throughout his prison sentence Abbou experienced inhumane conditions as well as harassment by prison guards. According to his family, Abbou had been woken up and beaten in the middle of the night, denied proper medical care and experienced harassment by fellow inmates incited by prison officials. To protest this violence Abbou initiated a hunger strike on March 11, 2006. His family also experienced continuing police harassment while he was in jail.

Abbou was released July 24, 2007, with no reason or advance warning. While CJFE is thrilled by Abbou's release we must also call your attention to the continuing harassment of independent journalists in Tunisia. We hope Abbou's release is the beginning of a new commitment to press freedom by the Tunisian government.

We thank you for your attention and look forward to your reply.

Yours Sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

c.c: Bruno Picard, Ambassador of Canada
Peter MacKay, Minister of Foreign Affairs