Djibouti : Arrests and trials continue to be met with silence

Press release
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FIDH and its member organisation in Djibouti, LDDH, are concerned about a wave of arrests of USN opposition activists as well as the continuation of legal proceedings against members and leaders of the political opposition. FIDH and LDDH call upon the Djiboutian authorities to stop this repression, release all persons detained and ensure civil and political rights as well as press freedom.

At around 9:30am on 23 June 2013, a large police presence charged hundreds of supporters of the Union for National Salvation (USN), the Djiboutian opposition parties’ coalition, protesting in support of three political prisoners: Abdurahman Souleiman Bechir Suleiman, Abdurahman Barkad God and Guireh Meidal Guelleh. These men had appeared before the Supreme Court of Djibouti after having filed an appeal against their April 2013 convictions to 2 years in prison (of which 18 months to be served without any possibility of parole) and the deprivation of their civil and civic rights. Their appeal hearing was postponed to 25 November 2013 without a ruling on the merits. Around five hundred demonstrators were arrested and detained until the morning of 24 June at the police-run Nagad administrative detention center. Some of these activists are still held. Their conditions of detention, especially for the frail or sick, are concerning as they have been deprived of water, food and medical care, and many suffered physical abuse during detention. Families and friends who tried to visit, especially to bring water and food, were brutally repulsed by the police, and their property, such as personal vehicles, confiscated.

"This constant repression by the authorities against political activists in Djibouti occurs in the deafening silence of international indifference. We must put an end to both the repression and the indifference" said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. "The countries that annually pay tens of millions of dollars to hire military bases in Djibouti, have a special responsibility to act to stop this repression," he added.

The parliamentary elections of 22 February 2013 were characterised by significant irregularities in several regions of the country and polling station results have still not been published despite appeals from countries like France and organizations like the European Union. Since these elections, the incumbent authorities have severely repressed opposition demonstrations, arrested dozens and even hundreds of activists, and initiated legal proceedings against most of their leaders.

Today ten prisoners of conscience are detained in Gabode prison because of their political commitment. These are: Abdourahman Souleiman Bechir ; Abdourahman Barkat God ; Guireh Meidal Guelleh ; Mohamed Ahmed known asJabha ; Hassan Djama Khaireh ; Mohamed Osman Bouh ; Mohamed Osman Rayaleh ; Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh, Sougueh Ahmed Robleh and Mahdi Mohamed Bouhoul, a young military man arrested for denouncing electoral fraud. Seven other youths, Ahmed Djama Moussa, Fayssal Aden Omar, Mohamed Ahmed Adar, Djirdeh Mouhoumed Ibrahim, Abate Gadid Merito, Abdo Ali Bouha and Abdi Mohamed Ahmed known as Ankala were released on 29 May 2013 (first four) and 12 June 2013 (other three) following a Court of Appeal decision reducing their sentences from four to two months in prison. USN Member of Parliament (MP), Ahmed Hoche Gedi, himself was sentenced to 25 days in jail, an 11 month and 5 day suspended sentence and a heavy fine, on 28 May 2013.

While many activists have been released after a few days or weeks of detention, many others have been sentenced to shorter prison terms or suspended sentences. Thus, MRD-USN activist, Mr. Yacine Doualeh Galab known as Harbi, who was arrested by police on 15 June 2013, was sentenced on 18 June to a six month suspended prison sentence, while Osman Hassan Osman, arrested on 16 June 2013 by security forces looking for his father Hassan Osman Allaleh, an active MRD and USN activist, was released on 18 June 2013. As is typical, Mr. Yacine Doualeh Galab “Harbi” was denied the assistance of counsel, contrary to the Djibouti Constitution which states at Article 10 that "the right to a defence, including to be assisted by a lawyer of one’s choice, is guaranteed at all stages of proceedings. "

"We ask that the basic rights recognized in national and international legislation to which Djibouti has freely chosen to become a party finally be respected in this country," said Mr. Zakaria Abdillahi, LDDH President.

Opposition leaders are also harassed by the police and justice officials. Daher Ahmed Farah, president of the MRD and spokesperson for the USN, who returned to Djibouti in January 2013, has been the subject of several lawsuits. On 19 June 2013, he appeared before the Court of Appeal in Djibouti following an appeal by soldiers close to General Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim, the Army’s second in command, regarding a 2003 libel trial that had been quashed and set aside by the Supreme Court in 2004. This Supreme Court decision, whose authority as a final ruling has been acknowledged by the court of first instance, was however reserved for judgement on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 by the Court of Appeal. On 1 and 2 June 2013, 7 leaders and 18 activists of the USN were also arrested in Balbala Warabaley during internal policies meetings taking place in private homes. The leaders were: Ahmed Yusuf Houmed, USN President; OmarElmi Khaireh, President of the CDU opposition party and member of the leadership of the USN; Abdurahman Mohamed Guelleh, President of the RADD opposition party and USN Secretary General; Dato Mohamed Ali, a member of the RADD leadership and a USN leading member; Aden Dalieh Dirieh, RADD officer and member of the USN leadership; Omar Youssouf Moutena, USN MP; and Ali Mohamed Ali, head of the ARD opposition party and a USN member. These leaders and activists were finally released on 3 June 2013.

Journalists also continue to be targeted by the authorities. On 15 June 2013, Mr. Abdi Sougueh Farah, was arrested at around 6 am at his home in Ali Sabieh by police. This supporter of the USN is the father of exiled journalist Kadir Abdi Sougueh and was arrested at the request of Colonel Abdillahi Abdi Farah, Director General of Police.

Similarly, journalist Abdallah Maydaneh Okieh, one of the leaders of the news website “The Voice of Djibouti” who was jailed on 19 May 2013 in Gabode Central Prison, was sentenced on 28 May 2013 to 45 days imprisonment, and the payment of 2 million Djibouti francs in damages and a 200,000 francs fine. Four other Djiboutian journalists, Farah Abadid Hildid, Houssein Ahmed Farah, Moustapha Abdourahman Houssein and Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss, were sent before the Criminal Chamber of the Court of First Instance of Djibouti for judgment on 19 June 2013. The order for reference notified to reporters on 20 June, covers four of six journalists who had been held in Gabode prison from 9 February 2011 to 23 June 2011 before being provisionnally released under judicial control. The other two journalists, Hussein Robleh Dabar and Abdillahi Aden Ali, saw their cases dismissed. The four other journalists were referred to the Criminal Court after a reclassification of the charges against them from "participating in an insurrectional movement" to "inciting disturbance of public order", which is symptomatic of the dynamics of press criminalization in Djibouti.

Our organizations, which have repeatedly seized the Djiboutian state on these matters, again urge the authorities to stop the attacks against and police and judicial harassment of members of the political opposition and to release those detained for political reasons. FIDH and LDDH also call upon the African Union, United Nations and diplomacies of influence to urge the Djiboutian authorities to stop these human rights violations and guarantee civil liberties, and political and press freedom.

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