How your words change lives: Jabeur Mejri, Tunisia

I have two of them now!” Jabeur Mejri is smiling and pointing at a flick book containing hundreds of photos of support taken by Amnesty International members. They were passed to Jabeur and his family while he was in prison in Tunisia over the last two years.

Jabeur was jailed for seven-and-a-half years in March 2012, for Facebook posts deemed offensive to Islam and the prophet Mohamed. “Prison was difficult,” he tells us. “The other prisoners used to harass me and beat me because of my views and none of the prison guards did anything to protect me.”

Jabeur receives messages of support from around the world on International Human Rights Day

After Jabeur was jailed, Amnesty supporters worldwide came together to push for his release. Thousands signed petitions and hundreds more sent messages of support to him and his family. Campaigners took to the streets in Tunisia and across the world. And many wrote letters to authorities as part of Write for Rights 2013, Amnesty’s global letter writing marathon. All the time, our team stayed in touch with Jabeur’s family and lawyers, checking that Jabeur was OK and looking for any developments in his case.

Finally, after exactly two years in prison and months of empty promises, he was pardoned by President Moncef Marzouki in March this year. “I saw the news that I had been pardoned on television,” he says. “No one in prison told me.

Jabeur was arrested again in April, and sentenced to another eight-and-a-half months in prison for insulting a public official. He tells us that he got into an argument with the official when he believed the man had given him the wrong information. Thankfully, in October 2014 he was released again by a presidential pardon. Jabeur’s release is provisional, as there is still a case against him relating to accusations of theft which he strongly denies.

Scared for the future

Despite his release, Jabeur does not feel free. “I’m afraid when I’m in the street that someone will hurt me or that I’ll be put in prison again,” he says. “And I’m afraid for my parents, who have already endured so much in these two years. I’m also scared for my future, I want to have a future and to work and have a family but I’m worried I won’t be able to here.”

Jabeur is scared because of attitudes in Tunisia to his views on religion. In fact, President Marzouki tried to justify delaying his release by saying that groups who found Jabeur’s views offensive might attack him. Repression and restrictions on free expression were a hallmark of Tunisia under the regime of president Ben Ali, but now a new government will soon have a chance to ensure that people like Jabeur Mejri feel safe to peacefully voice their opinions free from threats or intimidation.
Jabeur Mejri. Credit: Amnesty International.  

The difference we can make with Write for Rights

As this year’s Write for Rights begins, Jabeur’s case shows how your words and messages of support can really change lives for the better. Before we leave, he tells us just how big a difference your support makes.

Things got better when there was more attention on my case and some activists and lawyers came to visit me in prison,” he says. “Amnesty International’s support had a great impact, I’m very happy you raised awareness about my case, not just with your activists but amongst the Tunisian public as well.”

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This story originally appeared in The Wire, Amnesty’s global human rights blog