Aside from guarantees on paper, fundamental freedoms receive little or no protection in Djibouti, which has had the same head of state for almost 20 years.read more
Police used unnecessary and excessive force against dozens of protesters who had gathered in Tadjourah, Djibouti to denounce alleged nepotism. At least six peaceful protesters have been charged with threatening public order
Police threw teargas grenades at a crowd to break up a protest in Tadjourah, Djibouti, on 14th May 2018. Dozens of protesters had gathered to denounce alleged nepotism after the recruitment of 76 new civil servants linked to the construction of a new port in Tadjourah and placed stones and tyres on a main road to block traffic. According to a local civil society source, some protesters suffered gunshot wounds, including one who is severely injured.
According to one source present at the protest, one grenade hit a house which then burnt to the ground. Radio France Internationale (RFI) reported that around 80 arrests took place, although most were later released. According to a source, six individuals arrested at the protest were presented to the prosecutor’s office on 18th May and reportedly charged with threatening public order. They were later transferred to Gabode central prison for pre-trial custody.
Protests in Djibouti are rare and the police have used excessive force to disperse crowds. In December 2015, at least 27 people were killed and over 150 injured when security forces shot live bullets into a crowd during a public gathering for a religious celebration. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly in Djibouti is severely restricted and Article 15 of the Constitution of Djibouti only broadly guarantees “the full enjoyment of public rights and freedoms”. The Penal Code broadly criminalises public assemblies considered likely to “disturb public order”.
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.
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.
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.