Tunisia: Mohamed Abbou

Re: Mohamed Abbou

To: H.E. Mr. Bechir TAKKARI, Minister of Justice

From: Charles B. Davison

Date: 2006-04-04

We are again writing to you concerning the situation of Mohamed Abbou, a lawyer working for the protection and respect of human rights in Tunisia who has been himself targeted, persecuted and imprisoned for peacefully exercising his freedoms of expression and his duty to uphold the law.

We wrote to you in May, 2005 about Mr. Abbou, and had hoped that he would have been released from custody shortly afterward. We wrote to United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan in June 2005. We are very concerned to learn that Mr. Abbou remains incarcerated to this date, and that he has recently started a hunger strike.

Mr. Abbou is a lawyer and a member of the National Council for Civil Liberties in Tunisia, and we have reason to believe that it is in relation to his work in these capacities that he is now imprisoned. His arrest and detention followed his publication of articles about torture in Tunisian jails. He also published a commentary which was critical of Ariel Sharon’s recent visit to Tunisia.

Tunisa, as a member of the United Nations General Assembly, is bound the “Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers”, (welcomed by the UN General Assembly in 1990), which is premised on the fact that lawyers play a vital role in protecting human rights and, as such, the state must protect lawyers from harassment and reprisals, including arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, as a result of their work.

Article 16
Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference. ( The Basic Principles on the role of Lawyers (welcomed by the UN General Assembly in 1990)

A critical part of Mr. Abbou’s ‘professional function’ as a lawyer is to speak out in favour of the enforcement of human rights law. This duty is protected by the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 8, 1998, in particular Article 1 which provides that,

“every person has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental liberties at the national and international levels”.

Your country has ratified a number of international agreements and conventions which guarantee for all persons the rights and freedoms of opinion and expression, and the right to be protected from torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. To imprison a man because he has peacefully exercised his freedom of expression and opinion, or because he published a commentary which effectively supported and endorsed a commitment your country has made, to end and prevent torture of inmates and prisoners, seems to be contrary to your international commitments and obligations.

The continued detention of Mr. Abbou sends an alarming signal of a departure by the government of Tunisia from the rule of law and from international standards protecting the advocacy rights of lawyers.

As we have before, we again respectfully call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohamed Abbou and for the quashing of his convictions and sentences quashed. The rights and freedoms of expression and opinion which all citizens of and persons in your country hold under international law should be recognized and respected by your government.