Djibouti: The Crackdown Intensifies

16/01/2014
Press release
en fr

The brief arrest today of many leaders and activists members of the Union for National Salvation (USN), the main opposition parties’ coalition, and altercations that would have resulted, clearly reflect the intensification of the campaign of repression led by the current political regime against any dissenting voice in Djibouti. FIDH and LDDH strongly condemn these acts.

« The regime condemns, imprisons and harasses political opponents, independent journalists and human rights defenders in alarming proportions, » said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

On 16 January 2014, a dozen leaders of the USN and an unknown number of activists who were celebrating the first anniversary of the creation of the opposition coalition were briefly arrested and detained at the Nagad administrative detention centre where clashes would have erupted between detainees and the police injuring several people. Following these arrests, the USN headquarters located in Q4 was attacked and vandalised by unidentified persons.

These events occur in a climate of increased police and judicial repression against opposition parties, independent journalists, and human rights defenders. Since the beginning of December 2013, dozens of opposition leaders and activists have been arrested and some even sentenced. Further, custody of arrested militants frequently extends beyond the legal duration permitted, sometimes up to 11 or 17 days as was the case for Oumar Waberi and Mohamed Gadito Chehem. Although these two activists were finally acquitted thanks to their lawyer, many others remain in detention for having asserted their opinion, and have not been effectively assisted by their counsel. Acts of torture, as well as other inhuman and degrading treatment, are regularly reported in detention centres in Djibouti and several militants have died in custody in recent years, including the latest, Mohamed Elmi Rayale, an USN activist who died in Gabode prison on 29 August 2013.

« Every day I visit detention centres and go to the court to try to legally assist arrested prisoners of conscience, but my access to those in custody is constantly denied, which is a flagrant violation of Article 10 of the Constitution guaranteeing the assistance of a counsel » says Zakaria Abdillahi, LDDH President and one of the few Djiboutian lawyers trying to provide legal assistances to members of the opposition, journalists, and human rights activists.

Because of the legal assistance Mr. Abdillahi provides, and because of his denunciations of abuse of power, he is harassed, put under surveillance, and receives death threats. In fact, any dissenting voice is subject to this type of police and judicial harassment.

FIDH and LDDH urge the Djiboutian authorities to put an end to the repression of human rights defenders, and to comply with its national and international obligations to respect human rights, in particular civil and political rights. Our organisations call upon the African Union, the European Union, and influential diplomacies, including those which hold military bases in Djibouti (France, USA, Japan, etc.) to challenge the Djiboutian authorities to respect fundamental freedoms.

At the end of February 2013, protests against the method by which legislative elections were conducted led to mass demonstrations organised by the opposition. Those demonstrations were met with violent repression. Since then, arrests and trials against political opponents have taken place on a regular basis in Djibouti. In September 2013, FIDH and LDDH, through Mr Abdillahi, reminded the Human Rights Council of the United Nations of the dramatic situation of human rights in Djibouti, and in particular of political, public and union freedoms, as well as the persistent practice of torture in Djibouti.

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