Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage at the Djibouti appeal court's decision today to sentence Daher Ahmed Farah, editor of the newspaper Le Renouveau, to three months in prison for libelling the army chief of staff, Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim. At the end of the court hearing, Farah was taken back to Djibouti's Gabode prison, from which he had been released on a lower court's decision on 23 June.
The appeal court also gave Farah an additional three months' suspended sentence, ordered him to pay 13 million Djibouti francs (about 65,000 euros) in damages, fined him 200,000 Djibouti francs (about 1,000 euros) and banned his newspaper from appearing for three months.
"This is outright harassment," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard, pointing out that this was the third time Farah has been imprisoned this year on the same charges, ones that were dismissed by the lower court just two weeks ago. "This is not serious," he said.
Ménard also condemned the "astronomical" damages set by the court, which he described as a "death sentence" for Le Renouveau. "How will a little newspaper selling just a few hundred copies be able to find more than 65,000 euros? The authorities know very well this is the way to silence a newspaper that is bothering them."
Farah has been convicted as a result of a libel suit brought by Gen. Zakaria and the members of a military folkloric troupe, the Troupe Harbi. The newspaper had claimed in its issue of 17 April that Gen. Zakaria was using the troupe for political and personal ends.
"Is it republican to use a component of the army to make propaganda for a regime," the newspaper asked in a comment addressed at the Gen. Zakaria. "Do you think you are acting as a republican officer when you lend yourself to the political exploitation of a military cultural troupe? General, is it true that female members of the Harbi Troupe continue to serve you as in the past, in sports dress, of course?"
Farah, who also heads an opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Renewal (MRD), had previously been arrested several times in recent years. In most cases he was accused of press crimes and was fined or sentenced to prison terms.