- Djiboutian editor and opposition party leader Daher Ahmed Farah was given a three months prison sentence for libel yesterday. He was also ordered to pay an unprecedented high fine and a ban on his newspaper.
The Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) today "voiced its outrage" against the re-arrest of newspaper editor Daher Ahmed Farah. The Djibouti Appeals Court's yesterday decided to sentence Mr Farah, editor of the newspaper 'Le Renouveau', to three months' imprisonment for libelling the army's chief of staff, General Zakaria Cheik Ibrahim.
Following the court hearing, Mr Farah was taken back to Djibouti's Gabode prison, from which he had been released following a lower court's decision on 23 June.
The Appeals Court also handed Mr Farah an additional three months' suspended jail sentence, ordered him to pay 13 million Djibouti francs (65,000 euros) in damages, fined him 200,000 Djibouti francs (about 1,000 euros) and banned his newspaper from appearing for three months.
- This is outright harassment, said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard, pointing out that this was the third time Mr Farah has been imprisoned this year on the same charges, which had been dismissed by a lower court just two weeks ago.
Mr Ménard also condemned the "astronomical" damages set by the court, which he described as a "death sentence" for 'Le Renouveau'. The newspaper is a small-scale production and represents one of the very few non-government media outlets in Djibouti.
- How will a small newspaper selling just a few hundred copies be able to find more than 65,000 euros? asked Mr Ménard. "The authorities know very well this is the way to silence a newspaper that bothers them."
Mr Farah has been convicted as a result of a libel suit brought by General Zakaria and members of a military folkloric troupe, the Troupe Harbi. The first of General Zakaria's libel suits against Mr Farah was over a 6 March article accusing the army high command of carrying out politically-motivated dismissals.
In its 17 April issue, the newspaper had claimed that Mr Zakaria was using the troupe for political and personal ends. 'Le Renouveau' was accusing the army of lacking "neutrality" and saying it "should be apolitical." As a result, Mr Farah was arrested three days later.
- Is it republican to use a component of the army to make propaganda for a regime? the newspaper on 17 April asked in a comment addressed at General Zakaria. "Do you think you are acting as a republican officer when you lend yourself to the political exploitation of a military cultural troupe? General, is it true that female members of the Harbi Troupe continue to serve you, as in the past, and in sports dress, of course?"
Mr Farah, who also heads an opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Renewal (MRD), has been arrested several times in recent years. In most cases he was accused of press crimes and was fined or sentenced to prison terms.
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