Opposition members face increasing restrictions ahead of 2021 elections

Peaceful Assembly

On 9th March 2020, it was reported that a demonstration by RADDE (Rally for Action, Democracy and Ecological Development) slated for 16th April 2020 in front of the National Assembly was banned by the Interior Minister. The demonstration aimed to call for respect for fundamental freedoms and transparency during the upcoming May 2021 elections. According to Daoud Houmed, a spokesperson for the majority, the ban was imposed for security purposes, as he claimed that there were terrorist movements within the region who would use this as an opportunity.

On 1st November 2019, protests in Arhiba, on the outskirts of the capital city, were met with brutal force as demonstrators protested against the arrest of a member of the opposition Alliance républicaine pour la démocratie - Republican Alliance for Development (ARD) - party. Authorities used live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protest, injuring dozens of protesters who had blocked roads near the city. Reports indicate that up to 50 people were injured. 


On 9th March 2020, members of the ARD party kidnapping and arbitrary detention of one of their members. According to the group, Dilleyta Tourab was arrested by hooded men before being held incommunicado for four days, and thereafter imprisoned in Gabode prison on 7th March 2020. The party attributed the arrest to political repression by silencing dissenting voices ahead of the upcoming May 2021 elections.

Separately, in September 2019, a report by the UN Secretary-General, the UN Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Gilmour noted that journalist and human rights defender Kadar Abdi Ibrahim continued to suffer reprisals.The report, which seeks to address intimidation and reprisals against those seeking to cooperate or having cooperated with the UN human rights bodies and mechanisms,highlighted the continued reprisals against Kadar, who was still unable to travel due to his passport being confiscated by the intelligence service (SDS). Kadar had also been included in the 2018 report of the Secretary General because he was unable to participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Djibouti in May 2018 after his passport was confiscated in April 2018 on returning from Geneva where he had undertaken some advocacy activities ahead of the UPR session.


Djibouti is a closed off country run by an authoritarian government with a sparse media environment that is dominated by the state. The main independent news outlet is La Voix de Djibouti, a radio station that operates online from exile in Belgium and France. There are no private TV or radio stations and the government owns the main newspaper and national broadcaster. In the last World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Djibouti was ranked 173rd out of 180 countries with the headline “One exile radio station, nothing else.” Djibouti’s World Press Freedom Index ranking has been stable.

On 12th March 2020, in commemoration of the World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) unblocked the website of La Voix de Djibouti, Djibouti’s only independent media outlet. The station operates from France but is blocked in Djibouti and is one of the few spaces available in the country for free speech and information. According to RSF, without it “Djibouti would become a news and information black hole.”

The exercise, which is known as operation collateral freedom, has now enabled RSF to provide alternative online access to a total of 21 news outlets that are blocked in their own countries through a technique which duplicates the censored website on international servers, thus enabling users in those countries to access the site. Other countries where this is being done by RSF include China and Egypt.

In a separate development, one of Djibouti’s most high-profile bloggers, Samatar Ahmed Osman, who regularly exposes human rights violations committed by the authorities and corruption cases, remains in exile. In the last few months, authorities targeted him and his family members in Djibouti, including his wife, Filsan Souleiman Samireh, an opposition activist who was briefly arrested and detained in August 2019. On 6th August 2019, Samireh was arrested by the Information and Security Service at her parents’ home and detained in an unknown location. The arresting officers did not show an arrest warrant and did not disclose the reason for her arrest. She was released the following day after extensive interrogation about her husband’s online activism and accused of encouraging her husband to criticise the government.