2003 Documented Cases – Djibouti

APRIL 20, 2003

Daher Ahmed Farah, Le Renouveau

Farah, president of the opposition Mouvement Pour le Renouveau Démocratique et le Développement (MRD) and editor-in-chief of the party newspaper, Le Renouveau, was arrested by police and taken to Gabode Prison in the capital, Djibouti.

Farah's arrest followed a complaint made by Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim, second in command of Djibouti's army, in response to an April 17 Le Renouveau article questioning his neutrality as commander of the army. The report also implied that while the army is supposed to be an apolitical institution, it serves the interests of the ruling party.

Farah was placed in solitary confinement. Only family members were allowed to visit him during his detention. Farah was eventually charged with two counts of defamation. The first was filed by General Ibrahim. The second came from Div. Gen. Fathi Ahmed Houssein, chief of staff of the armed forces and first in command of the military, on behalf of the Djiboutian army.

On April 30, Farah was denied bail. That same day, police raided MRD headquarters, which also serve as the offices of Le Renouveau, seizing much of the paper's equipment, including typewriters and all of the newspapers' archives. Authorities refused to release the seized materials until all legal matters concerning Farah have been resolved. On May 5, police confiscated all copies of the latest edition of Le Renouveau from street vendors, local sources said.

The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) helped Farah, a former RSF correspondent in Djibouti, obtain legal representation at no cost, retaining Parisian lawyer Stéphane Zerbib for the defense. Djiboutian journalists told CPJ that no local lawyers would take Farah's case.

On June 3, Farah was granted a provisional release from custody. However, the state prosecutor appealed the release, and Farah was rearrested on June 5. Local sources said General Ibrahim claimed that he would drop his defamation lawsuit if the journalist wrote him a letter of apology. Farah has refused to write such a letter. The case is ongoing.

Though Le Renouveau is the MRD party newspaper, it is one of only two privately owned publications in Djibouti, local journalists told CPJ. The second private newspaper is owned by another opposition party. According to the MRD Web site, Farah was released from prison on August 5. The status of the charges against him remains unclear.

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