Djibouti has expelled a team of journalists and news producers ahead of presidential elections scheduled for April 8, says Commission for Protection of Journalists(CPJ). Police detained the group after they interviewed Djibouti’s foreign minister and an opposition candidate the afternoon of April 1, then put them on a plane the following morning, the BBC said. BBC’s Africa security correspondent, Tomi Oladipo described their ordeal in an interview with the BBC World Service.
“An election can be free and fair only if journalists can cover it without being harassed, detained, or expelled,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “The expulsion of a news crew after they had interviewed the foreign minister and an opposition figure is an act of censorship, and casts doubt on the fairness and transparency of this poll,” he said.
The BBC on April 4 reported that it had written to the government of Djibouti to ask why authorities had detained and expelled its team. The Djiboutian government has not responded to a letter from the broadcaster seeking an explanation. Neither the office of the prime minister nor the minister of foreign affairs returned CPJ’s phone calls about the matter.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh is seeking a fourth term in this week’s elections, according to reports. According to BBC, Guelleh came to power in elections in 1999, succeeding Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who led the country for two decades since independence. His re-election as president in 2005 was seen as somewhat of a formality given the opposition’s boycott of the election.
He further consolidated his power when a change to the constitution in 2010 allowed him to stand for a third term.
Police in January arrested two local journalists, Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss and Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, and held them without contact with the outside world for more than a week, CPJ reported at the time. Khadar and Mohamed were both released in late January. Khadar received a two-month, suspended prison sentence, journalists in Djibouti told CPJ, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. The journalists were not informed of any charges against them.
African Union guidelines for a free and fair elections hold that there must be freedom of “assembly, association, expression, and campaigning as well as access to the media on the part of all stakeholders.”
Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders says Djibouti has a poor record when dealing with journalists.
The organisation ranked Djibouti near the bottom of its World Press Freedom Index, at 170 out of 180 countries.