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Human Rights Watch calls on Djibouti government to release protester

Friday 18 February 2011 | News | Comments: 0

Internationally respected Human Rights Watch has written to President Ismail Omar Guelleh, calling for him to ensure the release of prominent protester, Mr Noël Abdi.

The arrest has also been condemned by Presidential Challenger Abdourahman Boreh, who said:

I call on President Guelleh to order a halt to police brutality and arrests of citizens who are enjoying their constitutional rights to free expression and free assembly. The latest demonstrations show that the people of Djibouti want change and they want it now. President Guelleh must listen to the will of the people and step down immediately to pave the way for free and fair elections. If he doesn’t, I fear for a descent into lawlessness and tribal division, as happened in Somalia.

The letter from Human Rights Watch to the President of Djibouti reads:

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental organization that monitors and publicly reports on violations of human rights around the world.

We write to draw your attention to a very serious human rights concern relating to the arrest of Mr. Jean-Paul Noël Abdi and to call upon your executive office to take steps to safeguard his human rights as outlined below.

Mr. Noël Abdi was arrested on February 9, 2011, shortly after he investigated and reported on the arrests of students and members of opposition political parties following demonstrations on February 5 and 6; we also understand that he tried and was prevented from visiting the detainees at the central prison, Gabode. The February 5 demonstrations by university students protesting educational policies began peacefully, but later became disorderly and reportedly some looting occurred. The police used teargas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd and arrested a dozen or more people.

Mr. Noël Abdi did not organize the protests nor did he take part in the demonstrations. He did not condone any disorderly behavior or looting or stone throwing. Instead, as the president of Djibouti’s major human rights organization, the Djiboutian League of Human Rights (Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains, LDDH), he publicly objected to what he considered to be arbitrary arrests, especially that of an LDDH member, Mr. Farah Abadid Heldid, on February 5.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned because Mr. Noël Abdi has now been charged with “participation in an insurrectionary movement” under articles 145 and 146.4 of the Djibouti Penal Code, even though there appears to be no evidence to corroborate the charges.

We believe that Mr. Noël Abdi has been arrested and detained for exercising his right to free expression, which is protected under international law, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Djibouti is a party) and the Djibouti constitution.

Mr. Noël Abdi has faced a pattern of harassment by the authorities for several years. In 2006, he was prevented from attending a journalists’ conference in Uganda. In 2007, he was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and fined DJF 100,000 for “criminal libel” after he alleged that the security forces were complicit in the 1994 murder of seven people whose remains were uncovered in 2007. We understand that his appeal from that conviction has never been heard. In April 2009, he was arrested and detained for “public insults of judicial authority” after he criticized the courts for lack of judicial independence. He was released in June 2009 but the charges have not been dismissed.

Mr. Noël Abdi’s health is fragile. He is diabetic and in his mid-sixties. After his 2007 conviction, he was released from prison because of ill health and allowed to travel overseas for treatment. His detention now would undoubtedly exacerbate his health problems and put his life at risk.

Your Excellency, we call up on your office to consider the general circumstances of Mr. Noël Abdi’s arrest for his human rights activities and also having due regard to his health situation to exercise your executive power to drop the criminal charges against him and order his release. In so doing, meet Djibouti’s international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

Yours sincerely,

Rona Peligal
Deputy Africa Director

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