Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports security forces beat and tortured detainees.
Security forces arrested and abused journalists, demonstrators, and opposition members.
On January 14, authorities in Balbala reportedly arrested president of the Opposition Youth Movement Zakaria Rirache Miguil during a meeting of opposition youth in his home. According to opposition and human rights groups, security officials beat and tortured Miguil, who allegedly held a 24-hour hunger strike to protest prison conditions. Security officials reportedly arrested Miguil on suspicion of preparing a protest among youth against President Guelleh’s candidacy for a fourth mandate. Authorities released him after one week for lack of evidence.
According to opposition members, security forces arrested, beat, and shot several opposition leaders allegedly linked to the December 2015 incident. Government officials stated they investigated the case, but there was no evidence corroborating the allegations.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
International organizations reported prison conditions remained harsh. The country had one central prison, Gabode, in the capital and a second, smaller regional prison in Obock, as well as small jails supervised by local police or gendarmes. These jails often served as holding cells before detainees were moved to the central prison. Nagad Detention Facility, operated by police, primarily held irregular migrants and was not part of the prison system. There were reports police and gendarmes abused prisoners.
Physical Conditions: Gabode Prison had a maximum intended capacity of 350 inmates but often held more than 600, approximately 30 of whom were women. Conditions of detention for women were similar to those of men, although less crowded. There were generally fewer than 30 juvenile prisoners. Authorities allowed young children of female prisoners to stay with their mothers. Due to space constraints, authorities did not always hold pretrial detainees separately from convicted prisoners, nor were violent offenders always separated from nonviolent offenders. Authorities separated opposition supporters from the rest of the prison population and reportedly provided them with worse conditions than other prisoners for their incarceration. Authorities also reportedly provided poor lighting and heating, limited potable water and ventilation, and inhumane sanitation options for the prison population.
Prisoners with mental disabilities, who constituted a growing percentage of the prison population, did not receive adequate care. They were kept in the infirmary, although separately from seriously ill prisoners.
Conditions in jails, which held detainees until their summary release or transfer to the central prison, were poor. Jails had no formal system to feed or segregate prisoners and did not provide medical services. Prisoners were fed, but not on a regular basis.
Conditions at Nagad Detention Facility were poor, although detainees had access to potable water, food, and medical treatment. Authorities deported most detainees within 24 hours of arrest. While normally used for irregular migrants and prisoners of war, the government used Nagad Detention Facility in previous years as a temporary holding place for civilians arrested during political demonstrations. There were no such reports during the year, however.
No statistics were available on the number of overall prisoner and detainee deaths.
Administration: There was no prison ombudsman, but prisoners and detainees could submit complaints, showing evident censorship, through prison authorities to judicial officials to request investigation of inhumane conditions, which officials carried out in cases they deemed credible.
Independent Monitoring: The government granted prison access to foreign embassies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) only for cases of foreign citizens detained in the prisons. The government refused access to foreign embassies to monitor the prisons. Authorities allowed ICRC regional representatives based in Nairobi to visit Nagad Detention Facility and Gabode Prison quarterly and to conduct visits to individual detainees.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government did not respect these prohibitions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Security forces include the National Police under the Ministry of Interior, the army and National Gendarmerie under the Ministry of Defense, and the Coast Guard under the Ministry of Transport. An elite Republican Guard unit protects the president and reports directly to the presidency. A separate National Security Service also reports directly to the presidency. The National Police are responsible for security within Djibouti City and have primary control over immigration and customs procedures for all land border-crossing points. The National Gendarmerie is responsible for all security outside of Djibouti City and has the responsibility of protecting critical infrastructure within the city, such as at the international airport. The army is responsible for defense of the national borders. The Coast Guard enforces maritime laws, including interdicting pirates, smugglers, traffickers, and irregular migrants.
Security forces were generally effective, although corruption was a problem in all services, particularly in the lower ranks where wages were low. Each security force has a unit responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct, and the Ministry of Justice is responsible for prosecution. No known formal complaints of misconduct were filed during the year. Authorities took no known action to investigate complaints of misconduct from previous years. Impunity was a serious problem.
The National Police has a Human Rights Office and has integrated human rights education into the police academy curriculum.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires arrest warrants and stipulates the government may not detain a person beyond 48 hours without an examining magistrate’s formal charge; however, the government generally did not respect the law, especially in rural areas. Authorities may hold detainees another 48 hours with the prior approval of the public prosecutor. The law provides that law enforcement should promptly notify detainees of the charges against them, although there were delays. The law requires that all persons, including those charged with political or national security offenses, be tried within eight months of arraignment, although the government did not respect this right. The law contains provisions for bail, but authorities rarely made use of it. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice, which generally occurred, although there were exceptions. In criminal cases, the state provides attorneys for detainees who cannot afford legal representation. In instances of unlawful detention, detainees could get court ordered release but not compensation.
Arbitrary Arrest: During the year government officials arbitrarily arrested journalists, opposition members, academics, and demonstrators, often without warrants.
For example, on August 9, authorities arrested journalist Kadar Abdi Ibrahim at the Ambouli airport for allegedly attempting to record airport officials preventing opposition figure Hamoud Abdi Soultan from leaving Djibouti. Opposition members reported officials confiscated Kadar’s iPad, deleted all of his pictures, and detained him for three days. They also stated authorities prevented him from seeing a lawyer or his family and from eating and drinking water. He was subsequently released without charge.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was a problem, and approximately 20 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention. Prisoners often waited two, three, or more years for their trials to begin. Judicial inefficiency and a lack of experienced legal staff contributed to the problem.
Security officials held Abdourahman Mohamed Guelleh in pretrial detention from December 2015 until April 5 based on allegations of encouraging violent protests in connection with the December 21 incident. His case was still pending, but he was released on probation.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, but the judiciary lacked independence and was inefficient. There were reports of judicial corruption. Authorities often did not respect constitutional provisions for a fair trial.
The legal system is based on legislation and executive decrees, French codified law adopted at independence, Islamic law (sharia), and nomadic traditions.
The law states the accused is innocent until proven guilty, but trials did not proceed in accordance with the presumption of innocence. Trials generally were public. A presiding judge and two associate judges hear cases. Three lay assessors, who are not members of the bench but are considered sufficiently knowledgeable to comprehend court proceedings, assist the presiding judge. The government chooses lay assessors from the public. In criminal cases the court consists of the presiding judge of the court of appeal, two lay assessors, and four jurors selected from voter registration lists. The law provides that detainees be notified promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Although the law requires the state to provide detainees with free interpretation when needed, such services were not always made available. Detainees have the right to prompt access to an attorney of their choice. Defendants have the right to be present, consult with an attorney in a timely manner, confront witnesses, present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf, and generally have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They have the right to access government-held evidence. Authorities generally respected these rights. The indigent have a right to legal counsel in criminal and civil matters but sometimes did not have legal representation. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal, although the appeals process was lengthy. The law extends these rights to all citizens.
Traditional law often applied in cases involving conflict resolution and victim compensation. Traditional law stipulates that a price be paid to the victim’s family for crimes such as murder and rape. Most parties preferred traditional court rulings for sensitive issues such as rape, where a peaceful consensus among those involved was valued over the rights of victims. Families often pressured victims to abide by traditional court rulings.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters. On January 1, gendarmes arrested a prominent opposition leader for 24 hours.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
In cases of human rights violations, citizens could address correspondence to the National Human Rights Commission. On a variety of matters, citizens could also seek assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office, which often helped resolve administrative disputes between government branches. Citizens could also appeal decisions to the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The government did not always comply with those bodies’ decisions and recommendations pertaining to human rights.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law allow for freedom of speech and press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.
On January 14, authorities arrested Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, university professor and journalist and publisher of biweekly opposition magazine l’Aurore, after he published a picture of a child killed during the December 2015 incident. Ibrahim spent one night in custody and was then released. On January 19, a judge suspended Ibrahim’s magazine for two months and gave him a suspended two‑month jail sentence. In February 2015 Ibrahim was fired by presidential decree from his position at the university for expressing political beliefs in the workplace.
Another opposition member and two persons linked to the December 2015 incident were also fired by presidential decree from their government positions.
Press and Media Freedoms: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news.
On April 2, the government expelled BBC journalists, including BBC’s Africa security correspondent, from the country. According to government officials, the BBC journalists did not have proper media accreditation to report on the presidential election scheduled for April 8. The BBC asserted they did have official media accreditation and interviewed the foreign minister and an opposition candidate on April 1, after which authorities detained the journalists and deported them the next morning.
Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via e-mail and social media sites. President of the Djiboutian Human Rights League (LDDH) Omar Ali Ewado published a list of persons who allegedly died in the December 2015 incident; the number of names exceeded the government’s official death toll. Government officials stated Ewado fabricated the names and death toll. Authorities charged Ewado with defamation, and he spent 45 days in pretrial detention. On February 14, authorities granted Ewado probation. On April 30, the Supreme Court dropped all charges against him.
The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.
In 1992 the Ministry of Communication created a Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental entities wishing to operate media outlets. In 2012 the ministry accepted its first application for licensing, but the application remained pending. In 2015 Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh–a journalist with radio station La Voix de Djibouti–submitted a request to the Ministry of Communication for approval to operate a radio station. He subsequently received a letter stating the ministry’s commission had not been fully established and could not grant rights to operate a radio station. After the April cabinet reshuffle, the ministry selected members for the Communication Commission, but had yet to issue an official press release with all the names of members to formalize the commission.
Violence and Harassment: The government arrested and harassed journalists.
For example, on January 11, gendarmes arrested and detained La Voix de Djibouti journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss for allegedly reporting on court cases of opposition members. He was in Gabode Prison on pretrial detention until January 17. Authorities dismissed his case on January 24 for lack of evidence.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media laws and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship.
Circulation of a new newspaper requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigated funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.
In August, Youssouf Ahmed, editor of independent magazine Le Renard, was arrested and detained on charges of libel for criticizing high-level government officials. He was released after 48 hours. Authorities first sentenced Ahmed to one month in prison and a 9.96 million Djiboutian franc ($56,270) fine, but he settled his case out of court. According to opposition and human right groups, his case was dismissed contingent upon him no longer commenting on high-level government officials.
There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government (see section 1.c.).
Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.71 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. Following the December 2015 incident, there was a presidential decree issued for security reasons that forbade any cultural, political, or religious gatherings for two months. The Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs postponed a regional folkloric dance and a regional conference of Muslim religious leaders due to the decree until after the presidential election in April.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no government restrictions on academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. In contrast with the previous year, the Ministry of Interior allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies, particularly for the presidential campaign. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right (see section 1.c.).
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the ministry ignored the petitions of some groups (see section 5). The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement such laws effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators, government corruption was a serious problem. There were reports of government corruption.
Corruption: No known high-level civil servants were disciplined for corruption. The government ceased an initiative begun in 2012 to rotate accountants among government offices as a check on corruption. The law requires the court and the Inspectorate General to report annually, but both entities lacked resources, and reporting seldom occurred.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws.
Public Access to Information: There were no laws providing for public access to government information, although legislative texts were publicly available through the online official journal, and citizens could address requests for information to the Ombudsman’s Office.
Some government officials continued to block the publication of study results that might have reflected poorly on the government’s performance, especially studies in which results could be compared with those of other countries.