Good News: Tunisia Facebook Activist Jabeur Mejri is free
UPDATE: APRIL 22, 2014
Jabeur Mejri was unfortunately re:arrested on Friday 18 April and is held in Mahdia Prison after he argued with a court official.
29-year-old Jabeur Mejri, a prisoner of conscience held for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of opinion and expression in Tunisia, was released last night. Jabeur spent two years in prison, out of his 7.5 year conviction, for publishing online articles and cartoons deemed offensive to Islam.
Jabeur Mejri’s case was adopted into Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign on 10 December, 2013. During Write for Rights, Amnesty International members in more than 80 countries wrote almost two million letters, tweets and texts. The letters aim to save lives, stop torture, free prisoners of conscience and show solidarity for nine international cases including Jabeur. Online initiatives were also used to promoted Jabeur’s case, AI Tunisia launched a Facebook and Twitter campaign for Jabeur's release and AI Canada gather thousands of signatures through an online petition.
Jabeur Mejri was unjustly sentenced to 7.5 years for Facebook posts that criticized Islam, a punishment that is both harsh in execution and unfathomable in thinking. The freedom to believe and say what we feel is a human right that must be protected everywhere.
Jabeur logged onto Facebook during the first day or two of March 2012. He posted a picture of the prophet Mohamed and published articles critical of Islam.
Punishment was quick. Lawyers saw the posts and filed a complaint. Police officers arrested Jabeur Mejri on 5 March 2012. Authorities charged him with “harming or insulting others through public telecommunication networks”, “attacking sacred values through actions or words” and “undermining public morals”. By the end of March, he had begun serving a sentence of seven-and-a-half years in Mahdia prison.
International human rights law protects the act of expressing ideas that some people think are offensive. The ability to criticize religious and other beliefs and ideas is a vital component of the right to freedom of expression. While Jabeur Mejri’s posts may have offended some Muslims, they non-violently reflected his views.
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A presidential pardon, was announced for Jabeur Mejri on 19 February 2014 but remained in detention due to a previous arrest warrant. Finally, on the evening of 4 March 2014 was approved by the Court of Appeal in Monastir and was released.
“Jabeur Mejri’s release is a huge relief for his family and a victory for all the activists who have campaigned on his behalf across the globe. Putting him behind bars for two years for the images he posted online was a travesty that risked crushing all hope of genuine progress on freedom of expression in post-Ben Ali Tunisia,” said Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Jabeur Mejri is the third release from 2013’s Write for Rights cases, demonstrating the significant impact writing letters can make.