Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the crackdown in recent weeks on the few journalists still trying to provide independent news reporting in Djibouti and calls for the immediate release of Charmarke Saïd Darar, the latest of many reporters for La Voix de Djibouti to be arrested.
Charmarke Saïd Darar was arrested on the evening of 15 July as the local news continued to be dominated by the detention for a former air force pilot who deserted and whose supporters have been organizing frequent protests. Around 20 men went to the neighbourhood where Darar's parents live in order to arrest him, RSF was told by the head of La Voix de Djibouti (LVD), a radio station and Web TV based in Belgium that is the only independent, Djiboutian-run source of national news coverage for Djibouti's residents. When members of Darar's family tried to intervene, the men told them they were acting on the orders of Col. Daher Miguil, also known as "Elmi Gess." Darar is being held in Djibouti City's 5th district police station, in the municipality of Balbala, RSF has been told by sources close to the case. According to LVD, he has not been allowed access to his lawyer or to his family and is being subjected to degrading treatment.
Darar had been living in hiding in recent weeks because he was under contrast pressure due to his coverage of the case of Lt. Youssouf Ali Fouad, the dissident air force pilot who was jailed after trying to flee the country. During his appearance on the LVD weekly news programme "Échange sur l'Actualité" (News Exchange) on 12 July, Darar said two members of his family has been arrested with the sole aim intimidating him, but this would not stop him from "doing my job as a journalist." He also reported that the pro-Fouad demonstrations were continuing in the capital, and that Fouad's brother had also been arrested.
Darar had been living in hiding since the arrests of two other LVD reporters, Mohamed Ibrahim Wais (who is also RSF's correspondent in Djibouti) and Kassim Nouh Abar. Both were held for several days after covering the Fouad affair. Darar himself was already arrested on 3 May (World Press Freedom Day) simply for covering a fire that destroyed several homes in a suburb of the capital.
"The more the Djiboutian authorities continue to target journalists, the more people will pay attention to their repressive practices and to the news they are trying to cover up," said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF's Africa desk. "Charmarke Saïd Darar is one of the few journalists to be covering his country's news developments truthfully and with a great deal of professionalism. He has committed no offence. The reprisals against members of his family and his arrest are purely acts of intimidation. We call for his release."
The authorities also try to silence independent media by blocking access to their websites. Because LVD is regularly targeted in this way, in March RSF added it to the list of "Operation Collateral Freedom" sites that it "unblocks" by creating mirrors of the sites in locations that make them hard to block.
Djibouti is ranked 176th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index, three places lower than in 2019.