Tunisia: Leading Tunisian lawyer prevented from attending Amnesty conference

* Call for travel ban to be lifted
* ‘Mohamed Abbou is being held hostage’ - Amnesty International

The Tunisian authorities must immediately lift the unwarranted travel ban on human rights lawyer and former prisoner of conscience Mohamed Abbou, Amnesty International said today, after the lawyer was denied permission to leave the country earlier today.

Mr Abbou was due to attend an Amnesty International UK conference in east London when he was informed by security officers at airport passport control that he could not leave the country. He received no explanation and it was suggested that he should not try to travel outside the country again.

This was the seventh time since his release from prison in July 2007 that Mohamed Abbou has been denied permission to leave Tunisia.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa programme Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“Mohamed Abbou is being held hostage in his own country in what seems to be a concerted campaign by the authorities to punish him for his human rights work.

“The case of Mohamed Abbou is symptomatic of many cases of human rights defenders in Tunisia who are subjected to frequent harassment and intimidation by the security apparatus.

“We urge the Tunisian government to lift the travel ban on Abbou and to allow him to travel abroad in pursuit of his human rights work.”

International law guarantees freedom of movement, including the right to leave one’s own country. Since his release from prison in July 2007 after serving 28 months of his three-and-a-half year sentence, Abbou has been repeatedly prevented from leaving Tunisia on account of the “conditional” nature of his release. Although he has been released early, his prison term would not have lasted beyond September 2008.

Abbou was sentenced in April 2005 to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment for denouncing torture in Tunisia in an article he posted on the internet in 2004 and for allegedly assaulting another lawyer, in a grossly unfair trial attended by Amnesty International observers. Amnesty International considered him a prisoner of conscience solely detained for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and has campaigned for his release.

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