CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Djibouti

Live rating: Closed

Last updated on 12.03.2021 at 16:35

The Civic Space Developments

view Civic Space Developments
Protests break out against President Ismail Omar Guelleh

Protests break out against President Ismail Omar Guelleh

Djiboutians held demonstrations to protest a fifth term for incumbent President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who is running for re-election beyond his two-decade rule (34 years to be precise). According to the President, “Young Djiboutians told me to stay put, so that’s why I’m standing for re-election". Guelleh, 73, is facing political newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah, his only rival after traditional opposition parties decided to boycott the upcoming election, citing lack of fairness and transparency. President Guelleh recently engineered a change in the constitution to eliminate a provision that would have prevented him from seeking re-election for a further term.

Peaceful Assembly

Protests break out against President Guelleh

Djiboutians held demonstrations to protest a fifth term for incumbent President Ismail Omar Guelleh, who is running for re-election beyond his two-decade rule (34 years to be precise). According to the President, “Young Djiboutians told me to stay put, so that’s why I’m standing for re-election". Guelleh, 73, is facing political newcomer Zakaria Ismail Farah, his only rival after traditional opposition parties decided to boycott the upcoming election, citing lack of fairness and transparency. President Guelleh recently engineered a change in the constitution to eliminate a provision that would have prevented him from seeking re-election for a further term. On 18 February 2021, a rally was held which drew thousands of protesters but resulted in the deaths of two people. Since then, protests in the capital have grown since unrest erupted in other countries in the region in January 2021. Mohamed Daoud Chehem of the opposition National Democratic Party said the violence that resulted in the two deaths at last month's demonstration was initiated by police. Authorities deny the allegation that police provoked the violence, noting that one of the dead was a police officer. The planned resumption of mass protests in Djibouti was hindered by a massive police presence in the capital and arrests of about 300 opposition and civil society leaders.

"We make only pacific [peaceful] demonstrators… We are not violent. Our people are not violent. But the government side made a provocation to make violence" Mohamed Daoud Chehem

The authorities in Djibouti detained three top opposition leaders a day after the protest to demand regime change. The three are National Democratic Party chairman Aden Robleh Awaleh, Djibouti Democratic Party chairman Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Ismail Guedi Hared. The demonstration had started peacefully but droves of young opposition supporters -- several thousand according to the organisers -- dug in at the entrance of Djibouti's main stadium for the long haul. Clashes then broke out between demonstrators hurling stones and riot police firing tear gas grenades, leaving one protestor and one policeman dead, according to the interior ministry. The Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains (LDDH) released a statement criticising the government for arbitrarily arresting and detaining 23 persons. LDDH claims that several others, whom it has been unable to identify, are being arbitrarily detained at the Nagad administrative center.

Association

At least 20 migrants killed

On 10th March 2021, 20 migrants drowned during a crossing from Djibouti and Yemen. Reportedly, 200 migrants were on board a boat leaving Oulebi Djibouti before the smugglers panicked and threw approximately 80 people overboard. Only 60 made it back to shore. According to Yvonne Ndege, IOM regional spokesperson for the East and Horn of Africa, “Survivors believe there are still some unaccounted for. Five bodies washed up on shore”.

Association in Djibouti

Despite constitutional protections, civil society organisations and activists in Djibouti experience frequent violations of their right to associate freely.

Despite constitutional protections, civil society organisations and activists in Djibouti experience frequent violations of their right to associate freely. In December 2015, the head of the Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits de l’Homme (LDDH), the last remaining human rights organisation in Djibouti, was publicly harassed and beaten by the chief of police. A few days later, he was shot and critically injured in the throat by security forces. Despite the severity of his injuries, he was ordered to leave hospital after only 8 days. Other LDDH members were arrested and unlawfully detained; and the organisation’s offices were raided by police officers, who seized computer equipment and archives. It is not only human rights groups that have had their freedom of association violated in Djibouti. In 2014 for instance, individual teachers were targeted because of their union activities. Activists have also been prevented from travelling and had their passports confiscated.

Peaceful Assembly in Djibouti

In a country where power lies in the hands of a small political elite, peaceful protests are tightly controlled by the authorities.

In a country where power lies in the hands of a small political elite, peaceful protests are tightly controlled by the authorities. A state of emergency was introduced in the wake of terror attacks in other countries, granting the authorities the power to break up peaceful gatherings without adhering to due process. Protests in recent years, for example those against unfree elections in 2013, were violently suppressed by the authorities. The single most violent incident occurred in the early hours of 21 December 2015 when participants in a religious and cultural ceremony prepared to gather to read the Quran. They were shot at by police attempting to disperse the crowd, and although between 19 and 37 people lost their lives, the incident received scant international attention.

Expression in Djibouti

There is virtually no free media in Djibouti, and only one in ten people have access to external sources of news via the Internet.

There is virtually no free media in Djibouti, and only one in ten people have access to external sources of news via the Internet. A problematic communication law itself impedes free speech and media pluralism, while criminal defamation laws are used to clamp down on dissent. Having released a list of names of people massacred by security forces during the religious gathering in December 2015, human rights activist Omar Ali Ewado was arrested and charged with public defamation. He spent one and a half months in prison. There is just one independent news outlet in Djibouti – La Voix de Djibouti – a radio station which broadcasts from outside the country due to the threat of attacks against its journalists. Journalists that report on the treatment of human rights activists can themselves become targets for brutal treatment by the security forces.