Nearly a week after CPJ sent a letter to Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali urging him to end the "ongoing cycle of repression of critical journalists and media outlets," Tunisia's Ministry of Justice and Human Rights told Mohamed Abbou, a prominent human rights lawyer and writer, in a phone call on Saturday that he was free to travel abroad.
"There is no doubt that CPJ's letter and other
actions recently undertaken by international human rights groups helped prompt
this phone call, " Abbou told CPJ. He said he had been arbitrarily prevented
from leaving the country by
"They finally acknowledged that no decision has ever been made to prevent me from leaving the country after my release from prison in July 2007," Abbou said. The Tunisian Bar Association was also informed by phone the same day that there were no travel restrictions imposed on Abbou, journalists told CPJ.
On the eve of the 53rd anniversary of Tunisia's independence from France, on March 19, CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon told Ben Ali that various transgressions, including arbitrary restrictions on Abbou's right to freedom of movement by Tunisian authorities, "thoroughly belie every statement" he and his government have made about their "proclaimed commitment to increased press freedom over the past two decades."
Simon urged "in the strongest terms" Ben Ali to take "immediate and decisive action" to implement his "repeated commitments to freedom of expression" and to honor his country's pledge to abide by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Abbou was incarcerated for more than 28 months for
contributing articles to the locally blocked news Web site Tunisnews, in which he compared torture in
In the last few months, international
human rights groups such as Amnesty International, the World Association of
Newspapers, and IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group invited Abbou to take part in
international meetings in different parts of the world. So did the Doha-based
Al-Jazeera satellite TV channel. But Abbou was prevented from leaving the
country. His freedom of movement within
This isn't the first time the
Tunisian government has prevented a journalist from leaving the country. In
August 2008, CPJ wrote to Ben Ali to protest his government's continuing refusal
to grant journalist Slim Boukdhir a passport. To date, Boukdhir still
doesn't have one, and is often harassed since his release from prison
in July. The journalist was released just a few weeks after a CPJ mission to
Boukdhir wrote about the state of freedom of expression in his country on the CPJ Blog on March 26.