In Tunisia, an Internet writer is freed after 28 months

New York, July 25, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release from prison on Tuesday of a Tunisian human rights lawyer who had been jailed nearly 28 months because of online articles he wrote criticizing the Tunisian government.

Mohammed Abbou and more than 20 other political prisoners were freed by order of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The order, which grants a form of parole, was issued on the eve of today’s 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Tunisia.

“We are relieved that the unjust imprisonment of Mohammed Abbou and the cruel harassment of his wife and children are over,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “But his only crime was to inform the Tunisian public of the human rights violations of their government.”

Abbou was arrested in March 2005 and later sentenced to three and a half years in prison for “defaming the judicial process” and “assaulting a colleague.” Local and international rights groups said Abbou’s trial fell short of international standards of fairness. The assault accusation, for example, was directly contradicted by witnesses.

Abbou’s main crime, according to CPJ research, was the submission of two opinion pieces to the Web site Tunisnews, which is blocked domestically, that criticized Ben Ali’s autocratic rule and compared torture in Tunisia’s prisons to conditions in Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib under U.S. command.

CPJ, which closely monitored Abbou’s case, repeatedly called on Tunisian authorities to end his politically motivated imprisonment, to halt his harassment by prison guards, and to end the harassment of his wife, children and lawyers by plainclothes police. On June 2006, CPJ wrote to Ben Ali to express its deep concern about the unacceptable punishment inflicted on Abbou and to urge the president to release the journalist and end attacks on independent journalism.