Djibouti: Arrest of a Citizen Following the Dissemination of a Video Condemning Water Shortcomings in the Country

Arrestation d’un citoyen djiboutien suite à sa publication de vidéos dénonçant une pénurie d’eau dans le pays

On 10 August 2016, Alkarama referred the case of Abdi Aden Cheik Ali to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression (SR FRDX), in order to call for his release after he was sentenced by the Djiboutian authorities to three months in detention following the dissemination of a video denouncing the lack of water in the region of Ali-Sabieh.

Agents from the gendarmerie of Ali-Sabieh, a city located in the southern region of the country, arrested Abdi Aden Cheik Ali on 20 July 2016, at 4 am, at his house without presenting an arrest warrant. It is likely that his arrest is linked to the dissemination of a video, circulating in the internet, which denounces the water shortcoming and the difficulties of local populations in sourcing water. Cheik Ali was then held in remand custody for three days and denied access to his family. Moreover, he was neither guaranteed his right to judicial assistance through a lawyer, nor notified by the authorities of the formal accusations that were brought against him. Cheik Ali was then referred to the Prosecution of Djibouti City on 23 July 2016, and transferred, on the same day, to the central detention facility of Gabode. On 31 July 2016, he was again heard at the same Prosecution and was condemned to three months in detention while being denied the chance to judicially challenge the decision. His sentence constitutes a clear breach of basic fair trial and due process rights, such as the right to be notified of the formal accusations brought against him, the right and the time to prepare the defense and to access a lawyer.

"It is unfortunately not a random case, rather a quasi-systematic crackdown on the oppositional voices and on human rights activists, particularly when it comes to expressing an opinion that does not comply with the authorities' position" reported Simone Di Stefano, Regional Legal Officer for the Nile at Alkarama. He further added that "the oppressive climate impacting on the freedom of expression stands in evident contrast with the Republic of Djibouti's commitments pertaining to fundamental rights, specifically in link with the 2002 ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)".

This conviction is the latest in a series of governmental prosecutions against political opponents and journalists to intimidate them and stop their activities. This arrest falls within the framework of a policy of repression initiated by the regime in Djibouti to silence all voices of dissent in the country. In January 2016, Alkarama had already solicited the intervention of SR FRDX for the case of Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, the co-director of the newspaper 'l'Aurore' who was prosecuted for publishing the picture of a seven year-old girl, who passed away in the violent dispersal of a religious ceremony by the police and the army on 21 December 2015. It becomes apparent that, again, any criticism on social media networks made against the authorities leads to judicial harassment.

Alkarama urgently requested the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression (SR FRDX) to call on the Djibouti authorities to render the sentence against Cheik Ali null and void and to ensure that the right to freedom of opinion and expression be guaranteed to every citizen.

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