Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is outraged at the judicial harassment of Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh, the website editor of the independent radio station La Voix de Djibouti (LVD), the first independent radio station in Djibouti’s recent history. He could face imprisonment unless he pays an exorbitant fine of more than 11,000 US dollars.
Okieh, who works as both journalist and technician for the news site, which was set up in 2010 by the Djibouti diaspora, was arrested on Monday this week by the police in the capital for failure to comply with a court order, and released two days later by the public prosecutor’s office.
However, he must still pay 2,084,000 Djibouti francs, equivalent to 11,740 US dollars, in libel damages to Lieutenant-Colonel Elmi Daher Miguil in May 2013. If he fails to do so, he could be imprisoned again.
Okieh was charged with “insulting a police officer” and “defaming the police” for posting photographs on Facebook showing police breaking up a peaceful demonstration. He has already served five months in jail, from 15 May to 19 October 2013, although he was originally sentenced to 45 days’ imprisonment. He described the conditions in which he was held as “inhuman”, saying he was tortured and refused medial attention.
“The charges against Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh are without foundation and amount to nothing less than harassment on the part of the Djibouti authorities against a stalwart of the first free and critical radio station in Djibouti’s history,” said Virginie Dangles the deputy programme director of RSF.
“Together with the diaspora, he is fighting to keep the public of Djibouti informed and publishes free and independent news and information which has been irritating Djibouti’s ruling dictatorship for a long time. We urge the authorities to end this harassment and scrap this ridiculous fine against a journalist who is just going about his work.”
Okieh, listed by RSF as one of its 100 information heroes in 2014, has been arrested many times over, and has been ill-treated by the Djibouti authorities and wrongfully convicted. His last arbitrary arrest was in the March last year for covering a meeting in Balbala of the National Salvation Union (USN), an alliance of seven opposition parties, during which he again witnessed the violent dispersal of demonstrators by the police. He was accused of disturbing public order.
In 2013, he spent a month in prison for inciting rebellion and inciting illegal demonstrations.
Djibouti, whose government signed a framework agreement on political dialogue with the USN in December last year, is ranked 170th of 180 countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.