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Send Jabeur Mejri a Letter

01/08/2014

In May 2012, we posted on our website a story about Tunisian blogger Jabeur Mejri. At the time he had been sentenced to a prison term of seven years, having been convicted of posting materials about the prophet Mohammed along with other comments about Islam.  Those comments were deemed to be religiously disrespectful. As well, in a rather lengthy manifesto both Jebeur and his blogging partner Ghazi Beji declared themselves to be atheists.

In Beji's case, rather than being accused of insult Islam, he was accused of other real or imagined crimes against his employers.  He was sentenced to the same seven years in prison.  As his only alternative to prison, Beji fled the country.  With no real plan, no money, and only the fear of prison to motivate him he nearly lost his life a number of times on a harrowing trip out of the region with only the clothing on his back.  Over the next six months he landed in and out of jails and struggled through refugee camps all through Eastern Europe, at each stage growing a little closer to what he thought would be safe haven in northern Europe. Eventually, with dozens of well wishers and supporters who are tracking his story during this time he arrived at a safe house in Paris, France.  His journey is now the subject of a number of books in progress, and there is a proposal to make a film about this ultimate road trip to safety.
 
During this time, reports surfaced about the ill-treatment of Jabeur Mejri, still in prison in Tunisia. At one point unconfirmed reports said that he was near death due to infections and parasites. As a declared atheist, he came under the worst and most sadistic treatment of other inmates who were in prison themselves for being members of militant Islamic organizations.  Appeals had been made by his family for psychological testing and support as Jabeur had been reported close to a mental breakdown. The appeals were refused on overtly flimsy grounds.
 
Presently in Tunisia there is a great tug-of-war between the forces advocating for a secular and democratic government and those influences that would implement an al Qaeda like Islamic revival government.  There have been a small number of highly publicized political assassinations of the more moderate secular oriented leadership.   The government is struggling to put its best secular democratic face forward, but is also clearly under the heavy covert hand of more aggressive Islamists.  Freedom of expression and tolerance of religious diversity has become a touchstone for this struggle.
 
A grassroots movement has grown up in Tunisia calling for Jabeur's immediate release.  There have been demonstrations in the streets, his case is always mentioned when other human rights abuses are brought forward, and the international community is watching closely.  Jabeur's case has become a test of the Prime Minister's ability to negotiate a safe passageway for a free press and peaceful political dissent. 
 
Cartoonists Rights Network International feels the time is right for international pressure to be brought to bear on this case.  The Prime Minister has publicly stated the number of occasions his willingness to release Jabeur, while at the same time stating he cannot safely release him because of fear that he would be assassinated by the militant Islamists.    The Prime Minister's stated willingness to release him is a step in the right direction.  The international community must now step up and support the Prime Minister with a plan to insulate and keep Jabeur safe upon his release.
 
We call upon all of our friends in the cartooning community to send letters of support to the Prime Minister, calling on him to assure Jabeur's quick and safe release.
 
Furthermore, we invite our friends to send Jabeur a letter directly to him in prison, letting him know that he is not alone, that people care about his fate, and that people are working for his benefit. These letters will give him a new birth of confidence and a willingness to go on.
 
Mr. Jabeur Mejri
Prison civile de Mahdia
Route de Chiba 5100
Mahdia,
Tunisie
 
Below is the text of two letters regarding this case. One is a personal letter to Jabuer supporting his cause and another is a letter to the Prime Minister of Tunisia copy to the ambassadors from Tunisia to Canada and the United States. 
 
December 18,2013
 
Mr. Jabeur Mejri
Prison civile de Mahdia
Route de Chiba 5100
Mahdia,
Tunisie
 
Dear Jabeur,
 
I hope this letter finds you feeling better, and I equally hope that the treatment you are being given at the prison in Madhia by your guards, and the Commandant of the Prison is improving.   
 
As you receive letters, it might be good if you could have some of them sent to your parents so they also know that there are so many people in the world who want to support you and have faith that you will very soon be released.
 
I know you are not a cartoonist, but we feel a great responsibility for you, as one of the problems that you had was posting a cartoon on your blog site.  Our organization supports all cartoonists and people who may be in trouble because of posting a cartoon that someone didn't like.   
 
Please know that thousands of people in the world are aware of your situation, that the Pres. of Tunisia himself is said that he feels your imprisonment is unfair, and that we are all working together to seek your release.  Please do not give up hope.
 
If they allow you to please write back to me in the United States.
 
My very best, 
Dr. Robert Russell
Executive Director
 
  
 
December 18, 2013
 
Pres.  Moncef Marzouki
Palais Presidentiel
Tunis
Tunisia
box@pm.gov.tn
 
Your Excellency,
 
Cartoonists Rights Network International is a nongovernmental organization that monitors and protects the free speech rights of political cartoonists who find themselves in trouble because of the power and impact of their cartoons.  We also advocate for people using cartoons to illustrate their stories on the electronic social networks.  
 
For many months we have been monitoring the fate of Mr. Jabeur Mejri, a young man whose case is very well known to you and your office.
 
In April of last year, I had the pleasure of being in Tunis meeting with a large group of political cartoonists from all over the region. I traveled there under the terms of a grant from the European Union in partnership with the International Freedom of Expression eXchange, of Toronto Canada.  The cartoonist were from Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Iran, and the UK.  We enjoyed the freedom to express ourselves clearly and unambiguously without fear of repercussions or censorship.
 
We all left our meeting with very warm and cordial feelings about free speech in Tunisia with one exception.
 
We all knew that our colleague, Jabeur Mejri, was suffering horribly from physical afflictions as well as from the special forms of torture that prisoners (at the hands of other prisoners) are subject to after they have been identified as atheists.  
 
On a number of occasions you have publicly stated your willingness to pardon Mr. Mejri if only you could guarantee his safety once he was released.
 
Our organization, working in cooperation with other local and international organizations, would welcome the opportunity to provide him with safe haven in a friendly country immediately upon his release.  
 
At the very least we appeal to you to assure him of the psychological and physical security that he deserves as a prisoner of conscience.  
 
The world is watching his case very closely.  People are looking for indications of your government's ability and willingness to act in accordance with the terms of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19.  Article 19 guarantees all citizens of signatory countries the right to free expression and freedom from fear of reprisals for speaking openly and truthfully.
 
Our organization and all of our cartoonist colleagues around the world stand ready to support you in your safe release of Mr.Mejri from prison. 
 
Please let your office contact me about seeking a safe release for Mr. Mejri.
 
Most sincerely, 
Dr. Robert Russell 
Executive Director
 
His Excellency Riadh Essid
Ambassador for Tunisia
515 O’Connor Street
Ottawa, ON, K1S 3P8
Canada
etottawa@ipandp.com
 
His Excellency Mohammad Ezzine Zhelaifa
Ambassador for Tunisia
1515 Mass. Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005
 
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