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Tunisian lawyer and human rights defender Mohamed Abbou was released on 24 July after spending more than two years in jail for criticising the government on the Internet, reports the Observatory for Freedom of the Press, Publishing and Creation (Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de creation, OLPEC). Members of IFEX's Tunisian Monitoring Group (TMG), who have been campaigning for his release this year - including visiting him in prison in March - joined OLPEC and other rights groups in welcoming his release.

After being freed with no advance warning, Abbou returned to his family at their home in Tunis, according OLPEC. According to his wife, Samia Abbou, no reason was given for the release. The release came one day before the 50th Anniversary of the Proclamation of the Republic of Tunisia on 25 July.

Abbou's case has largely been a symbol of Tunisia's appalling human rights record and the subject of numerous campaigns and days of action. He was tried and sentenced on appeal in June 2005 to three and a half years in jail for exposing torture in Tunisia on the Internet, and for comparing the treatment of prisoners in Tunisia to conditions in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The TMG called his trial a "parody of a lawsuit without questioning nor pleadings." Abbou's detention conditions were also substandard, and his family faced continuing harassment from the political police force while he was in jail.

"As a former prisoner of conscience, I would like to thank all those in Tunisia and the rest of the world who stood by my side during the ordeal I have been through. The Tunisian authorities offered time and again to release me from prison on condition of signing a letter of apology. But I refused to do so," said Abbou in an interview with the broadcast network Al Jazeera on the evening of his release.

"My release is the result of actions of resistance to oppression undertaken by Tunisians capable of saying no to a regime in violation of basic human rights. The Tunisian Constitution and international human rights law guarantee the right to criticise the government, as long as there are human rights abuses and corruption. The lack of freedom led some young people to use violence which I strongly denounce," added Abbou, in his first interview since his arrest in March 2005.

Visit these links:
- TMG (English):
- TMG (French):
- "Kalima" magazine:
(24 July 2007)

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