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Djibouti5 May 2003

Call for government to free editor

Reporters Without Borders called on the Djibouti government today to free Daher Ahmed Farah, editor of the newspaper Le Renouveau and leader of the opposition Mouvement pour le renouveau démocratique (MRD - Movement for Democratic Renewal), who has been in prison since 20 April.

"As far as we know, he was simply exercising his right to inform the public, a right guaranteed under several international treaties signed by Djibouti," said the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard in a letter to state prosecutor Djama Souleimane Ali. "Nothing justifies his prolonged detention," he said, noting that the United Nations condemned the jailing of people for peacefully expressing their opinions.

Ménard also deplored the new seizure of the paper today at newsstands and from other vendors, calling it "serious harassment."

A member of the group Lawyers Without Borders has agreed to defend Farah and will go to Djibouti in the next few days. Local lawyers will not touch the case and the authorities have refused to release him on bail.

When Farah was arrested, he was placed in solitary confinement at Gabode prison and only his mother was allowed to visit him. He was not officially charged with any crime but some said the deputy head of the army, Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim, had filed a complaint against the paper after it criticised him on 17 April for lacking "neutrality" and saying the army "must not take sides."

A few days later, special police went to Farah’s home and to MRD headquarters without search warrants and seized seven typewriters, a photo enlarger, photocopier ink and all the newspaper’s archives.

Farah has been jailed several times in recent years. He was mostly charged with violating the press law and given prison sentences or fined. On 15 March this year, he was detained for a day and fined for "undermining army morale."

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