PUBLIC AI Index: AFR 23/10/99
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UA 307/99 Fear of arrest as prisoner of conscience 26 November 1999
DJIBOUTIAref Mohamed Aref, aged 46, lawyer and human rights defender
Amnesty International believes that former prisoner of conscience Aref Mohamed
Aref, a prominent defender of human rights in Djibouti and Africa, is at risk
of being imminently arrested for his peaceful criticisms of the government.
If this happens he is likely to face a lengthy period in detention awaiting
trial or be sentenced to a long prison term.
This follows new moves by the authorities to silence opposition critics and
comes after a television interview he gave in October 1999 to a French journalist
in which he expressed his non-violent views and criticized human rights
violations in Djibouti - the journalist and cameraman were subsequently deported
and their film confiscated.
On 22 November 1999, during questioning by the police (gendarmerie) about the
interview, he was told that proceedings had been opened against him on the
charge of defamation (diffamation). This means he could be summoned again for
questioning at any time, possibly remanded in custody, and be unfairly tried
under a defamation law inconsistent with international standards on freedom
of opinion and expression.
Aref Mohamed Aref, a prisoner of conscience from 1991 to 1992, has been the
leading (and virtually only) human rights lawyer in Djibouti for some years.
He has been an Amnesty International delegate at preliminary meetings on the
establishment of an International Criminal Court and other missions and is
a member of the African Human Rights Defenders network, established in
Johannesburg in December 1998.
In February 1999 he was jailed for six months after an unfair trial for alleged
fraud (escroquerie) connected to a civil case in which he had been involved
in 1994 (see Extra 15/99, 8 February 1999 and follow ups). Amnesty International
believes the charges, which he denied, were politically motivated. He was
released by the newly inaugurated president Ismael Omar Guelleh in May under
In December 1998, security forces prevented him boarding a plane to Paris where
he was due to attend a Human Rights Defenders Summit. His passport, confiscated
at the time, has still not been returned to him and the ban imposed on him
practising law is still in force (see News Release: 24 June 1999, AFR 23/05/99).
In September 1999, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action after a
government crackdown on the last two remaining opposition newspapers in
Djibouti, when three journalists from the papers were arrested. All have now
been sentenced to prison terms and their newspapers banned because they
published articles critical of the government (see UA 254/99, AFR 23/07/99,
28 September 1999 and updates).
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