On 19 January 2016, the Court of flagrante offenses of Djibouti City condemned Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, publication co-director of the Aurore newspaper, to a two-month suspended prison sentence, while suspending the publication of this monthly newspaper also for two months. As the sentence seems to relate to the authorities' determination to cut off all means of free expression in the country in the run-up to the April 2016 presidential election, Alkarama and the Djibouti League for Human Rights (LDDH) submitted Kadar's case to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression (SR FRDX) to call on the authorities to cancel the decision against him and to authorise again the publication of the Aurore newspaper.
The prosecution of this opposition newspaper and its 40-year-old publication co-director was justified by the publication of a photograph in its fifth edition on 11 January 2016 of a seven-year-old girl who died during the violent dispersal of a religious ceremony by the police and the Djibouti army on 21 December 2015, which led to the deaths of dozens of people and injured numerous others. While the authorities have not yet launched an independent and impartial investigation into these events, they have tried to block any dissemination of information about them by arresting political opponents, but also by pursuing and intimidating journalists. Such was the case of Mohamed Ibrahim Waïss, tortured in detention since his arrest on 11 January.
While the victim's family did not press charges against the newspaper for the dissemination of their child's photograph, the authorities considered that its release was "morally harmful" and arrested Kadar at his home on 14 January. Deprived of a lawyer while in detention, he was temporarily released after a hearing before the prosecutor on 16 January. During his trial on 19 January assisted by his lawyer, Zakaria Abdillahi Ali, he was eventually sentenced to two months' suspended prison sentence and the newspaper was suspended for two months while the offending photograph was removed.
"Whether the photograph in question could undermine the moral or not, it remains that suspending the newspaper for two months and condemning its publication co-director to a suspended prison sentence only pursue an objective of repression against this newspaper, in the run-up to a crucial election for the country's future," said Thomas-John Guinard, Regional Legal Officer for the Nile region at Alkarama.
This conviction is the most recent one in Djibouti, where the authorities have stepped up prosecutions against political opponents and journalists with a view to intimidate them and force them to halt their activities. It marks an increasingly important political cleavage in the country, especially since the current President, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh officially announced his candidacy for a fourth consecutive term in the April 2016 presidential election. Since then, human rights violations have increased without generating a reaction from the international community.
To allow the free publication for the Aurore newspaper, Alkarama and the LDDH 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 cancel convictions against the newspaper and Kadar Abdi Ibrahim. Beyond guaranteeing press freedom, the authorities must also guarantee a democratic debate in the country and ensure that every citizen is free to express his opinions.
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