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06TUNIS1658 2006-07-03 13:02:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tunis
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1. (C) Summary: In a June 30 meeting, Samia Abbou, wife of
jailed lawyer/writer Mohamed Abbou, told Poloff that GOT
harassment of her and her family had diminished following the
removal of Mohamed Ali Ganzoui as Interior Ministry Secretary
of State of National Security on June 5. However, she
claimed her husband was still suffering from poor detention
conditions and sought further USG intervention to secure her
husband's release. End Summary.

2. (C) Poloff met with Samia Abbou on June 30. Her husband
Mohamed Abbou (Ref F) has served nearly a year and a half of
a three and a half year sentence on charges of defaming the
judiciary and posing a threat to public order (1.5 year
sentence), stemming from an on-line article he wrote
comparing Tunisian prisons to Abu Ghraib, and a separate
charge of assault (2 year sentence). Mrs. Abbou described
frequent harassment from alleged GOT security agents in past
months, claiming that police followed her everywhere, were
constantly stationed around her house, and stopped her en
route to visit her husband at El Kef Prison (Northwest
Tunisia). She said that for weeks, an unidentified person
would climb on her balcony late at night, rattling doors and
windows, and severely frightening her school-age children.
However, she claimed that in the past month most of the
harassment has stopped, a development she attributed to the
departure of Mohamed Ali Ganzoui as Secretary of State for
National Security in the Ministry of Interior (Ref C).
(NOTE: Ganzoui was rumored to be responsible for heavy-handed
tactics directed against civil society in Tunisia since his
appointment following the UN World Summit on Information
Society (WSIS) in November 2005. END NOTE.) Although she
said she is still followed, and police continue to be
stationed at her residence, she is no longer stopped when
traveling to visit her husband, and her family has received
no more late night harassing visits.

3. (C/NF) Mrs. Abbou claimed that her husband still suffers
from poor prison conditions, mainly because of harassment
from co-detainees in his shared cell, who according to her
"constantly verbally harass him." She said that prison
authorities doubled the number of prisoners in Abbou's cell,
and that several times his co-detainees told him that if he
signed a confession that what he did was wrong, he would be
set free. Mrs. Abbou called this, "an effort to humiliate
him." She also said that one of the co-detainees had made
negative comments about Abbou's young daughter and wife.
Although she did not allege any serious physical abuse, she
said Mohamed Abbou has several times asked prison authorities
for a change of cellmate assignment to no avail. Mrs. Abbou
also complained about the level and breadth of medical
treatment available to her husband, saying that doctors were
always accompanied by prison guards, and "weren't allowed to
do their jobs," and that services such as blood analysis were
not available. She claimed Mohamed Abbou was suffering from
rheumatism. (NOTE: ICRC confirmed to Emboffs that they had
visited and had lengthy discussions with Mohamed Abbou during
their inspection of El Kef Prison).

4. (C) Samia Abbou sought continued pressure from the USG to
release Abbou, and when reminded by Poloff of numerous public
statements and private discussions on her husband's case, she
expressed disbelief that "Ben Ali can ignore the United
States." Mrs. Abbou was hopeful that her husband might be
released on July 25, Tunisian National Day, an occasion often
marked by Presidential pardons of prisoners. She said that
of the two charges, one for publishing critical writings and
one for assault, the charge stemming from his writings
carried a year and a half sentence -- "a sentence which
Mohamed has already served." Therefore, she thought it would
be likely time that the GOT would allow his release. She
said the assault charge had been invented by the GOT, and
that the real reason Abbou had been jailed was because of an
article he posted immediately preceding his arrest in March
2005, in which he had criticized the Trabelsi family of Ben
Ali's wife Leila. Mrs. Abbou hypothesized that it was Leila
Ben Ali, and not the President, who was behind Mohamed
Abbou's arrest and detention.

5. (C) Comment: Samia Abbou's comment that she has felt less
GOT security pressure since the removal of Ganzoui from the

MOI dovetails with other reports of civil society meetings
which have been successfully held post-Ganzoui without heavy
GOT interference (Ref B), and prevailing thought among civil
society that Ganzoui was directly responsible for the
increased crackdown on independent NGOs and opposition groups
following WSIS.

6. (C) Comment (cont'd): While Samia Abbou noted positive
developments in her treatment, our GOT interlocutors continue
to be frustratingly obstinate on Abbou, refusing any
substantive dialogue on the case and contradicting themselves
as to the nature and details of the charges against him. In
the past year , Presidential Advisor Ben Dhia has told
Ambassador that Abbou "crossed a line, and should not have
criticized the President", President Ben Ali claimed he "only
learned of the case in the papers" (Ref E) , Foreign Minister
Abdallah refused to discuss the case with Deputy Secretary
Zoellick (Ref D), and MFA Secretary of State Saida Chtioui
has said that Abbou was charged only for assault. While
Abbou remains the most high profile political prisoner in
Tunisia, the GOT appears in no hurry to rid itself of this
stain on its human rights record. However, continued
pressure from the USG, the EU, and international and Tunisian
civil society could lead to an early release of Abbou, via a
Presidential pardon, like the March release of several
prominent An-Nahdha leaders (Ref G). (NOTE: In a recent
resolution on Tunisia, the EU Parliament called for the
release of Abbou. (Ref A) END NOTE). End Comment.