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Six contributors to opposition radio station held in Gabode prison for past four months

(RSF/IFEX) - 11 June 2011 - Reporters Without Borders has learned that six opposition activists, who are also reporters or contributors to La Voix de Djibouti, an opposition radio station that broadcasts on the short-wave from Europe, have been held in Djibouti's Gabode prison for the past four months without being tried.

The six detainees - reporters Farah Abadid Hildid and Houssein Ahmed Farah and contributors Houssein Robleh Dabar, Abdillahi Aden Ali, Moustapha Abdourahman Houssein and Mohamed Ibrahim Waïss - who are members of various opposition parties, were placed in pre-trial detention on 9 February on a charge of "participating in an insurrectional movement."

Hildid was reportedly tortured by gendarmes during his four days in police custody before being transferred to prison on 9 February. Both Hildid and Farah used to work for the banned opposition weekly Le Renouveau.

"La Voix de Djibouti's reporters and contributors are the victims of a government-orchestrated operation aimed at throttling the opposition," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. "After banning Le Renouveau, which supported the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD), the authorities imposed a news blackout on the protests that took place in February. They are targeting the last people who are likely to be sources of information."

Julliard added: "Media freedom poses a thorny problem for President Ismael Omar Guelleh and his government, who have chosen to suppress it and censor independent media, regardless of the law and the requirements of democracy."

The provisional release requests which the six detainees submitted to an appeal court and then to the Supreme Court were rejected. The Supreme Court is due to issue a ruling tomorrow on an appeal against these decisions.

On orders from the public prosecutor's office, gendarmes arrested Hildid on 5 February and Farah on 8 February. The next day, they were brought before an investigating judge, who ordered their transfer to Gabode prison.

A defence lawyer said the charge of "participating in an insurrectional movement" carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison under article 145 and 146 of the criminal code. During the 9 February hearing, no attempt was made to establish the journalists' role in the protests or to produce incriminating evidence.

The government has a news media monopoly in Djibouti and is hostile towards foreign reporters. To circumvent censorship and a ban on independent FM radio stations, La Voix de Djibouti broadcasts a weekly one-hour programme in several languages on the 21525 khz short-wave frequency.

The BBC and VOA are still relayed on local FM frequencies but RFI's FM transmitter has been shut down since 2005.

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