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Djibouti: Release of Cheik Ali after Three Months of Arbitrary Detention

On 24 October 2016, Djiboutian authorities released Abdi Aden Cheik Ali, a citizen who had been arbitrarily arrested on 20 July 2016 in Ali-Sabieh following the dissemination of a video denouncing the lack of water in the region, after more than three months in arbitrary detention. Upon release, he claimed having been detained in very difficult conditions. Alkarama had already referred his case, on 10 August 2016, to the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression (SR FRDX), in order to call for his release after he had been sentenced by the Djiboutian authorities to three months imprisonment.

On 20 July 2016, agents from the gendarmerie of Ali-Sabieh, a city located in the southern region of the country, arrested Abdi Aden Cheik Ali at his house without presenting an arrest warrant. His arrest was linked to the dissemination of a video, circulating in the internet, which denounced 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 condemned to three months in detention. His sentence constituted a clear breach of his fundamental 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.

Albeit Alkarama welcomes his release, it remains deeply concerned over the continuous crackdown of the Djiboutian authorities over local activists, human rights defenders and journalists who criticise the regime. Accordingly, Cheik Ali's arrest's was falling within the context of a policy of repression initiated by the regime in Djibouti to silence all dissenting voices 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 was killed during the violent dispersal of a religious ceremony by the police and the army on 21 December 2015. It becomes clear that, again, any criticism on social media networks made against the authorities leads to judicial harassment.

"We are very happy for his release, yet the continuous repression of critical voices in the country is worrisome and contravenes basic fundamental rights and freedoms such as the right to freedom of expression and opinion as enshrined, amongst other, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)," reported Simone Di Stefano, Regional Legal Officer for the Nile at Alkarama.

Alkarama therefore calls on the Djiboutian authorities to halt the prosecution and arbitrary detention of any individual criticizing the local authorities, to provide fair trial and due process guarantees to all individuals, as much as acceptable detention conditions, and to ensure compliance with international human rights law precepts that the country ratified in 2002.

For more information or an interview, please contact media@alkarama.org (Tel: +41 22 734 1008).