a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals.
On January 13, eight young men published a video online expressing their dissatisfaction with their political representatives, and, by extension, the president’s plans to run for a fifth term. They were arrested and detained for one week, then freed with a warning.
On June 9, authorities detained Walid Hassan, a blogger, for eight days in an undisclosed location before sentencing him to jail for defamation.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Privately owned or independent newspapers were distributed on an irregular basis. Printing facilities for mass media were government-owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to criticize the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on authorized print media.
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.
The National Communication Commission, a branch of the Ministry of Communication, started issuing licenses to political parties and private citizens aligned with the government, allowing them to operate social media accounts. The commission also issued identification cards to progovernment journalists. Political parties, journalists, and private citizens critical of the government were not issued licenses and identifications cards, which limited their ability to express themselves freely online. Foreign media outlets and journalists, including BBC and al-Jazeera, were not required to obtain a domestic license. They registered directly with the Ministry of Communication.
Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists. Several citizen journalists were arrested for posting pictures of protests or comments against the government.
On August 2, police arrested BBC stringer Mahamoud Osman Boulhan in Ali-Sabieh. Police detained him for three days, allegedly for his reports on civil unrest, and released him without bringing him before a judge or filing charges.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander to restrict public discussion and retaliate against political opponents.
There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to prevent demonstrations or overly critical views of the government. The government required that independent news and entertainment platforms receive a special license from the Ministry of Communication. This procedure discouraged freedom of expression on social media. The country’s law does not give the government legal authority to monitor social media.
Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, blocked access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), and independent streaming platform Voice of Djibouti, which criticized the government.
In August civil unrest involving confrontations between the Afar and Somali Issa ethnic groups broke out in the capital city spurred by events in Ethiopia. The government reportedly blocked access to Facebook via cellular data. As of December the block was still in place.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no reports of government restrictions on academic and cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Opposition members alleged security forces routinely cancelled or disrupted meetings and other political events.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for assemblies. Between January and April, the opposition political party Rally for Democratic Action and Ecological Development (RADDE) applied for such permits to protest the president’s decision to run for a fifth term. The government denied those permits and RADDE held several unauthorized demonstrations. Throughout this period leaders were periodically detained for organizing protests without permits, despite requesting them.
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. The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions (see sections 3 and 7.a.).
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law generally provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in the north of the country remained under military control.
Foreign Travel: On September 12, the Index on Censorship, a British organization supporting freedom of expression worldwide, included Kadar Abdi Ibrahim on a shortlist for an award for his activities as a journalist. Ibrahim was also the secretary-general of a (non-recognized) opposition party. He could not travel to participate in the ceremony, as the government seized his passport in 2017.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons, as well as other persons of concern. By law refugees have the same rights to public services and employment as citizens, and the government actively implemented this law.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen were prima facie considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. Since November 2020, Tigrayans from Ethiopia are also considered prima facie eligible for asylum or refugee status. The National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Disaster Victims (ONARS) and UNHCR issued identification cards to Yemeni refugees. The National Eligibility Commission (NEC), which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries, must review all other asylum claims; UNHCR participates as an observer. Ethiopian and Eritrean asylum seekers claimed discrimination in the refugee status determination process, citing lengthy delays. The NEC hears 10 cases in each month’s session, but up to 10,000 asylum seekers await status determination.
Refoulement: In June the government returned three Somalis upon the request of the Somali government without having verified their refugee status. In May the government cooperated with Ethiopia to extradite three Tigrayans, including refoulement of two registered refugees (similarly without verifying their status due to an internal communications breakdown), citing Ethiopia’s allegation they had ties to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees, primarily unaccompanied minor migrants who were enrolled in a program of voluntary return to their country of origin.