Freedom in the World
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Djibouti is a republic ruled by a powerful president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, who has been in office since 1999 and is not subject to term limits. While Djibouti technically has a multiparty political system, the ruling Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) has seized all state power. The opposition’s ability to operate is severely constrained, and journalists and activists critical of Guelleh or the UMP are regularly harassed or arrested. Freedoms of assembly and association are restricted.
- President Ismail Omar Guelleh was reelected for a fourth term in April, in a poll that was boycotted by some opposition parties.
- Journalists and activists working on contentious issues, including the April presidential election and the killing of at least 19 people by police at a December 2015 religious demonstration, were subject to harassment and arbitrary arrest during the year.
President Guelleh was reelected in April 2016 with 87 percent of the vote, in an election boycotted by the majority of the Djiboutian opposition. The run-up to the presidential election was marked by restrictions on free speech and the harassment and detention of opposition figures. Journalists from the independent internet radio station La Voix de Djibouti, run by exiles in Europe, and opposition-affiliated outlets were arrested in the months leading up to the election. Foreign journalists who covered election were also subject to government reprisals: a British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) team was detained and deported from the country in April.
An agreement between the ruling UMP and the opposition Union for National Salvation (USN), reached in December 2014 after months of disputes and noncooperation following the 2013 parliamentary elections, was again neglected in 2016. While the opposition ended its boycott of parliament, it continued to claim that the government was neglecting key democratic reforms promised in the deal.
The government continued to harass and imprison human rights defenders in 2016. In January, Omar Ali Ewado—a leader of the Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains (LDDH) who had been detained in December 2015 after publishing the names of people allegedly killed by police during a religious demonstration earlier that month—was convicted of inciting hatred and spreading false news. He was sentenced to three months in jail, but released in February after his sentence was overturned by the Appeals Court of Djibouti.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Djibouti, see Freedom in the World 2016.