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Human rights lawyer and activist Mohamed Abbou again barred from leaving the country

(OLPEC/IFEX) - The following is an OLPEC press release:

Lawyer Mohamed Abbou again barred from leaving the country

For the sixth time since his conditional release from prison in July 2007, lawyer and rights activist Mohamed Abbou has been barred from leaving the country. Border police stopped Abbou at around 11:00 am (locale time) on 3 March 2009 as he prepared to board a flight to Europe, where he was to speak at a conference at the invitation of Amnesty International. Abbou was also scheduled to meet with other lawyers, activists and foreign affairs representatives in the UK and the Netherlands. No reasonable explanation was given for the travel ban other than that the orders had come from "senior officials."

Since he was conditionally released in July 2007 after serving two and a half years in jail for expressing an opinion, Tunisian authorities have arbitrarily barred Abbou from leaving the country on numerous occasions. Initially, border police tried to invoke the excuse that he had not served his full three year term and therefore could not leave Tunisian territory. But since his release papers made no mention of any complementary sentence, there is no legal basis for this claim. Even admitting such questionable legal grounds, the travel ban would now be without basis in any case, since he would have legally served his full term in August 2008.

Abbou was sentenced to three and a half years' imprisonment in 2005 after denouncing cases of torture on the Internet. Since his release he has faced constant harassment and restrictions on his movements. Most recently, he was stopped by traffic police on 21 February on his way to Bizerte (about 60 km from Tunis), where he was to attend a conference. Police held him for more than two hours, releasing him only after it was too late for him to attend the conference.

"It is sad that the authorities, by resorting to these kinds of measures, continue to operate outside of any legal framework," said Abbou, after his latest travel ban.

- believes that the restrictions on Abbou's freedom of movement meet the criteria of an "arbitrary denial of freedom" as defined by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which states that: "The denial of freedom is arbitrary when it is clearly not founded in any legal basis" (Category I); OLPEC plans to take Abbou's case to the Working Group
- believes that such practices demonstrate the collapse of the rule of law in Tunisia
- demands that this arbitrary ban be lifted and that Abbou be granted his full liberty of movement.

Naziha Rjiba

For further information on previous travel restrictions on Abbou, see:

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