There was still no press freedom. The state held on to its monopoly of radio and TV broadcasting and the few opposition statements received little coverage. The public was poorly informed and preferred to listen to the foreign radio stations that can be received in Djibouti.
One lone journalist was again the victim of the government’s crackdowns on press freedom: Daher Ahmed Farah, the editor of the independent weekly newspaper Le Renouveau and head of the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD), an opposition party. Farah has been in the regime’s sights for several years, both as a journalist and as a political opponent. But he was constantly harassed in 2003, being arrested four times and spending about 60 days in prison.
The 8 May issue of the state-owned daily La Nation supported the government’s refusal to let the opposition set up a radio station. Djiboutians should "give up the pernicious idea of a banal imitation of western countries as regards press freedom," the newspaper said, adding that the public’s need for news would be met by the state radio and TV, La Nation and the government gazette - all closely controlled by the authorities.
A journalist imprisoned
Le Renouveau editor Daher Ahmed Farah was detained for the first time in 2003 on 15 March on the orders of the state prosecutor. He was accused of "undermining army morale and publishing inaccurate reports" because of an article claiming that army chief of staff Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim was involved in electoral fraud. He was released the next day.
He was detained again on 20 April and placed in Gabode prison. He was kept in solitary confinement in a small cell and was allowed few visits. His arrest was again due to Gen. Zakaria, who this time had objected to an article in Le Renouveau No. 475 that said the army lacked neutrality and should be apolitical.
A few days after his arrest, the Djibouti special police went to Farah’s home and to the headquarters of his party, the MRD, confiscating seven typewriters, an amplifier, replacement ink cartridges for the photocopiers, and all of the newspaper’s files, although no search warrant was shown. On the morning of 5 May, police confiscated the latest issue of the newspaper from news stands and newspaper vendors.
A judge accorded him a provisional release on 3 June. On leaving prison, he criticised the conditions to which he had been subjected: "I was put in solitary confinement in a cell of just a few square metres. I was not let out and only my mother could visit me."
He was detained again two days later and returned to Gabode prison, now in pre-trial custody on a charge of "undermining army morale" as a result of a defence ministry complaint.
Farah was released after a court hearing on 23 June in which the judge ruled that no crime had been committed and that the defendant was therefore not guilty. He told Reporters Without Borders on leaving prison: "This time I think it’s for good. I’ve been released in two cases and it’s blowing over. This is good news."
But he was wrong. On 9 July, the Djibouti appeal court sentenced him to three months in prison and an additional three months’ suspended sentence for libelling Gen. Zakaria. The court also ordered Farah to pay 13 million Djibouti francs (about 65,000 euros) in damages, and banned Le Renouveau from appearing for three months. He was incarcerated in Gabode prison for the fourth time in four months
Farah was convicted as a result of a suit brought by Gen. Zakaria and the members of a military folkloric troupe, the Troupe Harbi. In issue No. 475 of 17 April, Le Renouveau said Gen. Zakaria was using the troupe for political and personal ends. "Is it republican to use a component of the army to make propaganda for a regime," the newspaper asked in a comment addressed to Gen. Zakaria. "Do you think you are acting as a republican officer when you lend yourself to the political exploitation of a military cultural troupe? General, is it true that female members of the Harbi Troupe continue to serve you as in the past... in sports dress, of course?"
Farah was finally released on 5 August.