PUBLIC AI Index: AFR 23/01/99
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EXTRA 15/99 Potential Prisoner of Conscience 85 February 1999
DJIBOUTIAref Mohamed Aref, 46, human rights lawyer
Aref Mohamed Aref, a human rights defender and lawyer who was barred from
travelling to the Paris Human Rights Defenders Summit in December 1998, has
been summoned to appear in court in Djibouti on 15 February 1999 on charges
of fraud - an imprisonable offence. Amnesty International believes the charges
to be politically motivated and would consider him a prisoner of conscience
if he were imprisoned.
On 5 December 1998 the Djibouti security forces stopped Aref Mohamed Aref from
boarding a plane to Paris to attend the Human Rights Defenders Summit. They
confiscated his passport, without giving a reason, and have still not returned
it to him. Although he has made a complaint in court he has received no response.
He had previously attended the African Human Rights Defenders conference in
South Africa, in November 1998.
Following this the authorities have revived charges of fraud (escroquerie)
against Aref Mohamed Aref, connected with a civil case in which he had been
involved in 1994. He denies the charge.
Amnesty International has written to the Minister of Justice expressing concern
about the charges and asking if he will receive a fair trial or be able to
obtain legal representation, as his French defence lawyer is barred from the
country. The government has not replied.
As a result of the charges being brought against Aref Mohamed Aref, he has
been provisionally suspended from the Bar, in an unfair and politically
motivated action. Although he has appealed to the Supreme Court against the
suspension the court has delayed a ruling on the matter. His suspension from
the Bar prevents him from defending political prisoners or practising his
profession and earning his livelihood.
Aref Mohamed Aref, himself a prisoner of conscience from 1991-1992, has been
the leading (and virtually only) human rights lawyer in Djibouti for some years.
He does not belong to any opposition party but is known as an outspoken critic
of human rights violations by the government and of the failures of the judicial
system. He is well known in French and African legal circles and has been an
Amnesty International delegate at conferences on the International Criminal
Court and an observer at a genocide trial in Rwanda.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters in
French, English or your own language:
- appealing to the Djibouti authorities to ensure that Aref Mohamed Aref, a
human rights defender and lawyer, is not imprisoned at his trial on 15 February
1999, as he would be a prisoner of conscience;
- calling for the court hearing set for 15 February to be consistent with
international standards of fair trial, including the right to defence counsel
of his choice;
- asking that international observers are allowed to attend the trial;