January 19, 2016 - Updated on March 8, 2016

Djibouti authorities step up harassment of journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns radio reporter Mohamed Ibrahim Waïss’s mistreatment while unjustly detained from 11 to 17 January in Djibouti City and calls on the authorities to stop harassing journalists.

Mohamed Ibrahim Waïss, who works for La Voix de Djibouti, was reportedly badly mistreated at the gendarmerie’s Research and Documentation Centre (SRD), where his interrogators forced him to sign a statement and to surrender his Facebook usernames and passwords in order to use his identity to post images insulting the opposition.

RSF also deplores the conditions in which he was held in Gabode prison, where he was denied any contact with his lawyer, had no access to a doctor after the mistreatment received at the SRD, and ate no food because it did not seem edible.

When he was brought before a court on 17 January, the judge had no choice but to release him because no charges had been brought against him. He was nonetheless ordered to present himself again on 24 January.

Waïss has been the victim of previous arbitrary arrests that were the subject of RSF press releases. He spent four months in Gabode prison in 2011, several days in December 2013 and ten days in August 2014.

And he is not the only journalist currently being targeted by the authorities. L’Aurore co-editor Kadar Abdi Ibrahim was arrested on 14 January for printing a photo on the newspaper’s front page showing one of the victims of a massacre at Buldhuquo, when police opened fire on a banned demonstration killing at least 29 people, according to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

He was released on 16 January but continues to be charged although the parents of the victim – a 7-year-old girl – said they would not file a complaint over the use of the photo. L’Aurore was launched by the main opposition coalition, the National Salvation Union (USN), a few months ago.

“In the run-up to the presidential election in April, the Djibouti authorities are trying to silence the voices of all those who criticize the government’s actions,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We call on the authorities to abandon these prosecutions and to stop harassing journalists.”

In Djibouti, newspapers have traditionally been the mouthpieces of the various political parties but the opposition outlets have gradually disappeared over the years. Journalists are constantly harassed and subjected to government-orchestrated intimidation campaigns and, when arrested, are often tortured before being released and then prosecuted.

The situation has worsened since the start of President Ismaël Omar Guelleh’s reelection campaign, as the authorities step up arrests of journalists and stop at nothing to silence the opposition. Guelleh is running for a fourth term.

Djibouti is ranked 170th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.