- Tunisian lawyer Mohammed Abbu has been found guilty of posting "false news" on the Internet by a Tunis court and sentenced to three years and six months in prison. The lawyer had written an article mentioning the well-known practice of torture in Tunisia.
Mr Abbu was arrested on 1 March. He was first sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly physically attacking a colleague at a 2002 conference. This sentence, press freedom activists hold, only was a pretext for another "crime" Mr Abbu had committed.
On 29 April, it was know today, the lawyer was given another 18 months prison sentence for posting an article on the 'Tunisnews' website in August 2004, in which he compared torture in Tunisia to American soldiers' abuses of prisoners in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.
Many trial observers said they believed Mr Abbu's conviction was in fact connected with another article posted on the Internet shortly before his arrest, in which he criticised Tunisia's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to attend the November 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis and, using irony, exposed corruption among the Tunisian President's family.
One of Mr Abbu's lawyers described him as the "personal hostage of [Tunisian President] Ben Ali." Mr Abbu's lawyers refused to enter a plea on the assault charge, of which they were notified only days before the trial was set to get underway.
Lawyer and human rights activist Radhia Nasrawi said, "There was no concrete evidence to back up the charge, apart from an unsigned medical certificate, which has no legal standing. A number of witnesses would have been able to testify that no assault took place at the 2002 conference."
The prison sentence for Mr Abbu today provoked a protest by the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), which condemned the "mockery of a trial" against the Tunisian lawyer. The group urged democratic countries to boycott the November 2005 WSIS in Tunis unless the government ends its Internet crackdown and releases Mr Abbu.
The trial had "trampled on the most elementary rules of law," RSF said in its statement released today. "The charges against him were baseless. He was punished for having used the Internet to criticise government corruption."
The Paris-based group called for strong reactions from the international community. "In a cruel irony, [Mr Abbu] will be in prison when the WSIS - a conference on the circulation of news and information on the Net - opens in Tunis in November," the group noted.
Several human rights and press freedom groups have strongly protested the decision to organise the WSIS in Tunisia, a country with absolutely no freedom of expression at all. No independent media exist in President Ben Ali's dictatorship and critical voices are systematically imprisoned and tortured. afrol News and other independent media have therefore decided to totally boycott reporting from the WSIS, except Tunisian human rights-related issues.
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