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TMG DELEGATION BLOCKED AT PRISON ON MOHAMMED ABBOU DAY

Members of the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) delegation visiting Tunisia were physically prevented on 1 March 2007 from visiting imprisoned human rights lawyer and writer Mohammed Abbou. Men who refused to identify themselves blocked access to the street of the jail in Le Kef, a town 170 km southwest of Tunis.

A second circle of men, likely plainclothes policemen, photographed the TMG delegation while preventing its members from taking pictures. Samia Abbou, wife of Mohammed Abbou, was granted a 15-minute visit. Security forces have repeatedly harassed and threatened her and the family, stated the TMG.

TMG's sixth mission to Tunisia was composed of Norwegian PEN, INDEX on Censorship, the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the International Publishers Association (IPA).

Arrested in 2005, Abbou is serving a three-and-a-half-year sentence for online articles criticising Tunisian authorities. To mark the beginning of his third year of detention and demand his freedom, the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (Conseil national pour les libertés en Tunisie, CNLT) called for a day of protest on 1 March.

In Paris, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) activists demonstrated outside the Tunisian tourist office. Some 20 members of RSF and Tunisian human rights organisations plastered the tourist office's windows with posters reading "Tunisia, land of repression" and depicting the cyber-dissident. "It is time to show tourists the true face of the Tunisian regime," RSF said, "because on the other side of the postcard is a police state which has no hesitation in jailing Internet users."

Abbou was charged over an article posted on the website "Tunisnews" in August 2004, in which he compared torture of Tunisian political prisoners to abuses committed by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Though President Ben Ali has promised greater press freedom, pluralism of information does not exist and websites critical of Tunisian government policy are systematically censored, RSF said. It ranked Tunisia 148th out of 168 on its World Press Freedom Index in 2006.

Visit these websites:
- IFEX-TMG: http://campaigns.ifex.org/tmg/
- Norwegian PEN: http://tinyurl.com/2y8tfy
- RSF World Press Freedom Index: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21144

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