New York, NY, July 26, 2007—PEN American Center hailed the release this week of Mohammed Abbou, an Internet writer, lawyer, and human rights activist who was arrested on March 1, 2005, for an article published on the Internet nine months earlier that denounced torture in Tunisia. Abbou was serving a three and a half year sentence. Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali ordered his release on July 24th, the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Tunisian Republic.

Following his arrest, Mohammed Abbou, who is a member of the National Council for Freedom in Tunisia (Conseil National pour les Libertés en Tunisie, CNLT), was taken on April 9 to a prison in Tunis. Abbou was charged with “publishing false news reports,” “insulting the judiciary,” “inciting people to break the law,” and “publishing offenses” in connection with an article posted on the Tunisnews web site in August 2004, which compared torture committed against political prisoners in Tunisia to abuses carried out by U.S. soldiers in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. On February 28, 2005, Abbou posted another article on the same web site in which he ironically compared Tunisian President Ben Ali to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Since March 2006, Abbou had been subjected to various forms of harassment including attacks by prison guards who reportedly woke him and beat him in the middle of the night, searches, and threats to tarnish the reputation of his wife and family. Authority officials were reportedly instructed to harass Abbou’s wife, family and lawyers during weekly visits.

Agence France Press carried news of Mr. Abbou’s release yesterday.

Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems noted that Tunisia began holding Mohammed Abbou prisoner at the same time that the Tunisian government was preparing to host the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS), and that the WSIS was itself the target of Tunisian censors and security agents.

“We hope Mohammed Abbou’s release signals a willingness to respect the right of Tunisian writers and citizens to express themselves freely.” Siems said. Siems also paid tribute to Mr. Abbou’s courage.

“As we work to reverse policies of our own country that promote and justify torture, we are guided and inspired by colleagues like Mohammed Abbou who daily defy censors to expose governments that violate international prohibitions against torture.”

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105