Earlier today (1. March 2007), the members of the Tunisia Monitoring Group delegation visiting Tunisia (27 February – 4 March) were physically prevented from accessing the street of the prison of the town of Le Kef (170 km south-west of Tunis) where Human Rights lawyer and writer Mohammed Abbou is jailed, by plain clothes men who refused to identify themselves.
A second, more distant, circle of plain clothed men were taking pictures and openly staring at the members of the TMG delegation, thus creating a tense atmosphere. Members of the TMG delegation were prevented from taking pictures by the same men, most likely policemen. The car of the delegation had previously been stopped on the road to Le Kef for about 10 minutes by a group of officers of the national guard and plain clothes men who also refused to identify themselves.
The TMG delegation simply wanted to enquire about a possible visit of Mohammed Abbou. Members of the delegation were told they needed an authorisation to get near the prison gates. Samia Abbou, the wife of Mohammed Abbou, was granted a 15-minute visit.
TMG Chair Carl Morten Iversen declared: “I’m utterly outraged by what happened in Le Kef today. Unidentified men prevented us from accessing the street leading to the prison where Mohammed Abbou, the famous prisoner of opinion, is jailed, thus preventing us even from asking the permission to visit Mohammed Abbou. This is an abuse of power. Tomorrow we will be having a meeting at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights where we will be demanding answers vis-à-vis these events, while reiterating our call for the immediate release of Mohammed Abbou”.
Arrested on 1 March 2005, Abbou is currently serving a three and a half year prison sentence in connection to articles posted online in which he criticised Tunisian authorities.
Abbou was charged under both the press and penal codes for «publishing false reports inclined to disturb the public order,» «insult to the judiciary» and «inciting the population to break the country’s laws». His sentencing was announced on 29 April 2005 and later upheld by an appeals court in a 10 June 2005 hearing that international observers deplored as a «sham trial» during which neither Abbou, nor his lawyers, were allowed to contest the charges against him.
Abbou has been jailed under harsh conditions at El Kef prison. Since his imprisonment, Abbou’s wife and family have been repeatedly harassed and threatened by security forces.
See also: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg (whose website is still blocked in Tunisia).