Djibouti: Detained reporter’s home searched, Facebook account hacked
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the methods used by the Djiboutian authorities to keep pressuring and intimidating a journalist held for the past three weeks, including searching his home and hacking into his Facebook account.
A video filmed after the police searched Charmarke Saïd Darar’s home on 2 August shows the floor strewn with clothes and personal effects, an unplugged computer keyboard and empty wardrobes. It looks like the aftermath of a burglary and speaks to the level of persecution to which Darar and his family are being subjected. A reporter for La Voix de Djibouti (LVD), a radio station and Web TV run by Djiboutian exile journalists from a base in Belgium, Darar has been allowed no visits by his lawyer or family since his arrest on 15 July. His family saw him for the first time when the police brought him along, handcuffed, for the search. His sister told RSF he looked “weak” and as if he had eaten almost nothing since his arrest. The police seized all of his ID papers and journalistic material during the raid.
The office of the prosecutor-general has been sent a formal letter about the illegal nature of the proceedings against Darar, but has not responded to the questions put by his defence lawyer and supporters, in particular, about the charges against him and why he is being held incommunicado.
Darar’s Facebook account has also been the target of intrusion. After the police took his mobile phones and computer, a message was posted on his Facebook page saying it had been “secured from outside.” LVD editor Mahamoud Djama told RSF he thought it was “a trap set by the regime to get his colleagues and sources to write to him, so that they could be identified.”
It is clear from the information obtained by RSF that Darar is being deliberately targeted because of his reporting for LVD, which has a network of sources and reporters within Djibouti and is the only media outlet providing the country with freely and independently reported news and information. For the past several months, Darar had been very busy covering the high-profile case of Lt. Fouad Youssouf Ali, an air force pilot critical of the government who was arrested after trying to flee the country. Darar covered demonstrations in support of Ali, conducted interviews and participated in broadcasts about the case, which has been a major headache for the regime. Darar was already arrested arbitrarily on 3 May (World Press Freedom Day) after covering the impact of a fire in the capital, and was held for five days. Fearing the possibility of another arrest, he was living in hiding when he was arrested again on 15 July. His family had also been pressured by the police, who threatened to target them if they did not “get him to shut up.”
“After three weeks of detention in a completely illegal manner, this now constitutes abduction,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “The way the Djiboutian authorities have acted with this reporter is extremely serious and testifies to the scale of the persecution of those who try to produce independent news and information. We call on the authorities to free this reporter at once and to end the brutal methods used in an attempt to silence him. We also asked Djibouti’s partner countries to press for the release of this journalist, who symbolizes the fight for independent news reporting in a country that would be completely deprived of it without the handful of journalists who are still resisting and are who paying dearly for their commitment to inform.”
Darar is acquiring more supporters. Several cartoonists who are members of the NGO Cartooning for Peace last week joined RSF in denouncing his arrest in cartoons.
The authorities constantly harass LVD reporters with the aim of silencing them or identifying their sources. In the past year, RSF has tallied six arbitrary arrests of LVD reporters, including Kassim Nouh Abar and Mohamed Ibrahim Wais in June. Wais is also RSF’s correspondent.
Djibouti is ranked 176th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019.