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Djibouti7 June 2003

Newspaper editor re-arrested just two days after he was released

Reporters Without Borders has protested against the re-arrest of newspaper editor Daher Ahmed Farah on 5 June, just two days after his release, and has called on the authorities to set him free at once. The editor of the newspaper Le Renouveau and head of the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD), Farah is the subject of several libel suits by the armed forces.

"Although he was put back in custody for a different matter from the one for which he was released, we are outraged by this utterly unjustified decision," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to state prosecutor Djama Souleiman Ali.

"Farah was just exercising his right to inform the public, a right guaranteed by several international treaties ratified by the Republic of Djibouti," Ménard said

He referred in his letter to the opinion of Stéphane Zerbib, an international lawyer engaged by Reporters Without Borders to defend Farah because no lawyer in Djibouti was willing. Zerbib said Farah’s re-arrest was all the more unjustified as Gen. Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim, the army chief of staff had offered to withdraw his lawsuit in return for a letter of apology. Farah declined, but if he could have avoided prosecution by means of a mere apology, imprisonment seemed even more disproportionate to the wrong Gen. Zakaria claimed to have suffered.

Ménard also reminded the state prosecutor that the United Nations condemns imprisonment for the peaceful expression of an opinion and views it as a serious violation of human rights.

On 28 May, the appeal court reduced the sentence that had been passed on 7 April in one of Gen. Zakaria’s libel suits against Farah, over an article on 6 March accusing the army high command of carrying out politically-motivated dismissals. But it passed what is still a very heavy sentence for a press crime, namely a four-month suspended prison sentence and 500,000 Djibouti francs (2,417 euros) in damages. The original sentence was a six-month suspended prison sentence, a fine of 200,000 Djibouti francs (1,000 euros) and 2 million Djibouti francs (10,000 euros) in damages.

Le Renouveau criticised the army again on 17 April, accusing it of lacking "neutrality" and saying it "should be apolitical." As a result, Farah was arrested three days later but he requested a provisional release and this was finally granted by the investigating judge on 3 June.

The prosecutor appealed against the release, obtaining an order for Farah’s re-arrest. This was carried out on the morning of 5 June by criminal investigation and special affairs police who detained him at his mother’s home, where he had just passed the night. They took him to Gabode prison where he had been held before in appalling conditions.

Farah has also been prosecuted for "undermining the army’s morale" as a result of a complaint by another general and the defence ministry. His appeal against the six-month suspended prison sentence and fine of 200,000 Djibouti francs in this case has not yet been heard.

He was detained several times in the past few years. In most cases, he was prosecuted for press offences and sentenced to prison terms or fines.

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Appeal court sends newspaper editor Daher Ahmed Farah back to prison
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