Djibouti expels BBC journalists ahead of elections

Nairobi, April 6, 2016-Djibouti should ensure that journalists can report on presidential elections without harassment or fear of expulsion, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today, condemning Djiboutian authorities’ recent expulsion of a team of BBC journalists from the country.

The BBC on April 4 reported that it had written to the government of Djibouti to ask why authorities had detained and expelled its team of reporters and producers, including the BBC’s Africa security correspondent, Tomi Oladipo. The team of journalists was in the country ahead of presidential elections scheduled for April 8, and was accredited to work there, according to the BBC. Police detained the group after they interviewed Djibouti’s foreign minister and an opposition candidate the afternoon of April 1, then put them on a plane the following morning, the BBC said. Oladipo described their ordeal in an interview with the BBC World Service.

“An election can be free and fair only if journalists can cover it without being harassed, detained, or expelled,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “The expulsion of a news crew after they had interviewed the foreign minister and an opposition figure is an act of censorship, and casts doubt on the fairness and transparency of this poll.”

According to the BBC, the Djiboutian government has not responded to a letter from the broadcaster seeking an explanation. Neither the office of the prime minister nor the minister of foreign affairs returned CPJ’s phone calls about the matter.

President Ismail Omar Guelleh is seeking a fourth term in this week’s elections, according to reports.

Police in January arrested two local journalists, Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss and Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, and held them without contact with the outside world for more than a week, CPJ reported at the time. Khadar and Mohamed were both released in late January. Khadar received a two-month, suspended prison sentence, journalists in Djibouti told CPJ, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. The journalists were not informed of any charges against them.

African Union guidelines for a free and fair elections hold that there must be freedom of “assembly, association, expression, and campaigning as well as access to the media on the part of all stakeholders.”