Unfair trial /
Prisoners of conscience 28 September 1999 DJIBOUTI
Moussa Ahmed Idriss, journalist, opposition leader and member of parliament
Ali Meidal Wais, journalist
Daher Ahmed Farah, journalist, opposition leader
Amnesty International is very concerned by a recent government crackdown on the last two remaining opposition newspapers circulating in Djibouti.
The three journalists named above were arrested and charged with diffusion de fausses nouvelles, ?spreading false news?, likely to ?demoralize the army?. Moussa Ahmed Idriss, 66, co-director of Le Temps, The Times, was arrested on 23 September 1999 in Djibouti city.
A large contingent of armed police arrested him in the middle of the night. Their arrival led to clashes at his home in which police fired grenades, shot at people (one of whom died of bullet wounds), beat several others (including Moussa Ahmed Idriss? wife) and arrested 24 relatives and supporters – they are still held on criminal charges.
Le Temps is published by the opposition party Opposition djiboutienne unifée (ODU), Unified Djiboutian Opposition. Moussa Ahmed Idris is a member of parliament and president of the ODU party.
In April 1999, he was the unsuccessful opposition candidate in the presidential elections. (Before independence he had been a member of the French National Assembly.) Before his arrest, his parliamentary immunity was lifted by the president of the assembly in a dubious procedure.
He is expected to be tried imminently. Amnesty International is concerned that he will not receive a fair trial.
Retired army general Ali Meidal Wais is the other co-director of Le Temps. Daher Ahmed Farah is president of the opposition Parti du renouveau démocratique (PRD), Party of Democratic Renewal and editor of Le Renouveau, The Renewal, the journal of the PRD.
Both men were found guilty after a summary trial on 2 September and sentenced to eight months and one year in prison respectively and each fined 1 million Djibouti francs (US$5,850).
The arrests were over articles which appeared in Le Temps and Le Renouveau about an explosion which destroyed an army helicopter.
The articles reported a claim by the opposition Front pour la restauration de l?unité et de la démocratie (FRUD), Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy, that its forces shot down the helicopter, but they also reported the government denial of any FRUD connection to the incident.
The FRUD communique from Paris was also reported by French international radio stations. Amnesty International believes that the three journalists have been imprisoned contrary to international standards for the freedom of the press and are prisoners of conscience.
The organization also believes that the two already convicted did not receive fair trials – they were prevented from having legal representation of their choice and were undefended, members of the public were barred from attending the trial and there appeared to be several procedural irregularities.
Djibouti is currently governed by President Ismael Omar Guelleh, the former head of security who succeeded President Hassan Gouled Aptidon, his uncle, in the May 1999 elections.
The ruling Rassemblement populaire pour le progrès (RPP), People’s Rally for Progress, and an allied party won all the seats in the first multi-party elections in 1997.
Two deputies, including Moussa Ahmed Idriss, later went into opposition. Some opposition leaders were barred from standing in the 1997 and 1999 elections after court convictions in an earlier political trial.
The FRUD, which draws its support largely from the Afar ethnic group, has been fighting government forces since 1991, alleging government repression and exclusion of Afars.
Peace talks failed in 1994, though a small FRUD faction joined the government.