Mohamed Aref,
aged 46, lawyer and human rights defender

Amnesty International believes that former prisoner of conscience Aref Mohamed
Aref, a prominent defender of human rights in Djibouti and Africa, is at
risk of being imminently arrested for his peaceful criticisms of the government.
If this happens he is likely to face a lengthy period in detention awaiting
trial or be sentenced to a long prison term.

This follows
new moves by the authorities to silence opposition critics and comes after
a television interview he gave in October 1999 to a French journalist in
which he expressed his non-violent views and criticized human rights violations
in Djibouti – the journalist and cameraman were subsequently deported and
their film confiscated.

On 22 November
1999, during questioning by the police (gendarmerie) about the interview,
he was told that proceedings had been opened against him on the charge of
defamation (diffamation). This means he could be summoned again for questioning
at any time, possibly remanded in custody, and be unfairly tried under a
defamation law inconsistent with international standards on freedom of opinion
and expression.


Aref Mohamed
Aref, a prisoner of conscience from 1991 to 1992, has been the leading (and
virtually only) human rights lawyer in Djibouti for some years. He has been
an Amnesty International delegate at preliminary meetings on the establishment
of an International Criminal Court and other missions and is a member of
the African Human Rights Defenders network, established in Johannesburg
in December 1998.

In February
1999 he was jailed for six months after an unfair trial for alleged fraud
(escroquerie) connected to a civil case in which he had been involved in
1994 (see Extra 15/99, 8 February 1999 and follow ups). Amnesty International
believes the charges, which he denied, were politically motivated. He was
released by the newly inaugurated president Ismael Omar Guelleh in May under
an amnesty.

In December
1998, security forces prevented him boarding a plane to Paris where he was
due to attend a Human Rights Defenders Summit. His passport, confiscated
at the time, has still not been returned to him and the ban imposed on him
practising law is still in force (see News Release: 24 June 1999, AFR 23/05/99).

In September
1999, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action after a government crackdown
on the last two remaining opposition newspapers in Djibouti, when three
journalists from the papers were arrested. All have now been sentenced to
prison terms and their newspapers banned because they published articles
critical of the government (see UA 254/99, AFR 23/07/99, 28 September 1999
and updates).


Please send
telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters in French or your own language:
– expressing concern that human rights defender Aref Mohamed Aref is at
risk of imminent arrest and imprisonment following recent questioning by
police after he gave a television interview in which he expressed his non-violent
opinions and criticized human rights violations in Djibouti;
– calling for the withdrawal of judicial proceedings against him on the
charge of defamation – a law which is not consistent with international
standards of freedom of expression;

– asking that
his passport is returned to him and that he is allowed to practice his profession
as a lawyer;
– appealing for protection of the right to freedom of non-violent opinion
and expression.