Djibouti: Excessive Use of Force against Opposition Members by Police
On 3 December 2015, as members of the opposition coalition, the National Salvation Union (USN) were going to Ali Sabieh for meetings, they were stopped for a police control during which one of them, Mohamed Abdallah Dabaleh, was fired tear gas to his chest, leaving him unconscious. Alerted, Alkarama sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association (SR FPAA) to intervene with the authorities and stop the escalation of violence and repression against the opposition. Meanwhile, about 40 people were arrested during the afternoon.
Stopped at checkpoint
A delegation of USN officials left Djibouti City for Ali Sabieh, a town southwest of the capital, to take part in meetings. Even before leaving, their vehicles had been fully searched by the police, a search to which they had offered no resistance. Upon arrival at the entrance of Ali Sabieh, they were again stopped by police forces who have a checkpoint there. Still showing cooperation, members of the USN waited until they realised that, in fact, the police was not planning on letting them enter Ali Sabieh. A discussion followed, but the situation deteriorated rapidly when the police started firing tear gas in the air to intimidate the USN members.
As the latter began to move away, one of the officers deliberately targeted Mohamed and shot a tear gas canister at him, hitting him in the chest. Targeting an individual voluntarily and thus violating his physical integrity characterises an excessive use of force by the security forces. Due to the force of the impact, the latter fell and fainted. As the policemen did not react, the other USN members pulled him away from the gas fumes and he quickly regained consciousness. Although Mohamed did not appear seriously injured at first glance, the police did not see it fit to call for help and simply allowed the delegation to pass.
Wave of arrests in Ali Sabieh
This incident happened as a large police force was deployed in the city, as observed by the USN members as they were finally allowed in, fearing that their peaceful demonstration would be interrupted by the police. And in fact, the USN and other opposition groups were rapidly subjected to numerous arrests in the city as well as new streams of tear gas. In total, over 40 people were arrested simply for trying to participate in a peaceful opposition protest.
"These incidents occur in an unstable political context in Djibouti and demonstrates the authorities' willingness to stifle any form of organised opposition as we approach the 2016 presidential elections," said Thomas-John Guinard, Regional Legal Officer for the Nile region at Alkarama. Many people, including minors, had already been arrested in the recent weeks.
In order to stop police violence and these arbitrary arrests of opponents, Alkarama seized the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association (SR FPAA) to intervene with the Djibouti authorities so that they launch independent investigations into the events on this day and pursue the perpetrators. The authorities must ensure that everyone can freely and peacefully express their opinions and release all those arbitrarily detained.
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