Attacks on the Press 1999: Djibouti

On April 16, Ismael Omar Guelleh, lifelong protégé of retiring president Hassan Gouled Aptidon (who had ruled this small Horn of Africa nation since its independence from France in 1977) was elected head of state amid allegations of massive fraud. Shortly after the election, disagreements between the majority Issa ethnic group, which dominates the state apparatus, and the minority Afar group led to the resumption of sporadic fighting between the army and the Afar-dominated United Revolutionary Front (FRUD).

The government refuses to release casualty figures and continues to downplay the gravity of the rebellion. Journalists working for state media practice self-censorship in order to avoid accusations of supporting the FRUD rebels, and authorities are quick to retaliate against independent and opposition media that attempted to cover the worsening civil strife.

In September and October, three independent journalists–Ahmed Farah, editor of Le Temps, Ali Meidal Wais, a former army chief of staff and publisher of the weekly Le Renouveau, and Le Temps publisher Ahmed Idriss, who had unsuccessfully challenged Guelleh for the presidency–received six-month prison terms for reporting that FRUD rebels had shot down an army helicopter.

All three journalists were released on December 8, before completing their sentences. Le Temps and Le Renouveau, which both have close ties to the opposition Democratic Renewal Party, were suspended for a period of six months.

August 29
Ali Meidal Wais, Le Temps IMPRISONED
Ahmed Farah, Le Renouveau IMPRISONED
Moussa Ahmed Idriss, Le Temps IMPRISONED
Le Renouveau, Le Temps CENSORED

Police arrested three opposition journalists in connection with their published reports that the United Revolutionary Front, a rebel group, had shot down an army helicopter. The government rejected the reports, insisting that the helicopter had crashed because of technical problems.

Two prominent editors, Wais of the monthly Le Temps and Farah of the weekly Le Renouveau, were arrested on August 29, charged with disseminating false news, and sentenced to eight months in prison. Their sentences were shortened to six months on appeal.

On September 23, police arrested Idriss, publisher of Le Temps and an opposition leader, in connection with the same story. Idriss was arrested at his residence in Djibouti and taken to Gadobe prison. During the arrest, police killed one of Idriss’ parents and seriously wounded his wife.

Idriss, who had unsuccessfully run for the presidency a month earlier, was charged with endangering public order and disseminating false news. He received a six-month jail sentence. All three journalists were released on December 8.

October 22
Eric Monier, France 2 HARASSED, EXPELLED
Roger Motte, France 2 HARASSED, EXPELLED

Police officers in Djibouti City arrested reporter Monier and cameraman Motte, both of the Paris-based private television station France 2, and confiscated their equipment, notebooks, and personal documents.

The local communications minister charged that the two French journalists sought to tarnish the image of Djibouti and harm its relations with its former colonial master, France. Motte and Monier, who were investigating Djibouti’s use of French loan money, were expelled from the country that same day.