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Aref Mohamed Aref, 46, human rights defender and lawyer
Amnesty International is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Aref Mohamed Aref, a human rights defender and lawyer. On 15 February 1999 he was sentenced to six months in prison after being convicted on politically-motivated criminal charges. Amnesty International believes him to be a prisoner of conscience, detained on account of his work as a human rights defender and for having expressed views critical of the Djibouti government.
Although he was represented by a defence lawyer in court, lawyers from international organisations wishing to defend Aref Mohamed Aref in this case were refused entry visas to Djibouti. His trial lasted less than six hours. In addition to the six month prison sentence, he received a two-year suspended prison sentence. It is feared the authorities may seek to use this as a way of attempting to limit his human rights activism after his release. Aref Mohamed Aref is currently detained in harsh conditions in Gabode prison in the capital Djibouti. He has ten days to appeal against his sentence.
On 5 December 1998 the Djibouti security forces stopped Aref Mohamed Aref from boarding a plane to Paris to attend a Human Rights Defenders Summit organised by Amnesty International and other international human rights organisations. They confiscated his passport, without giving any reason, and have still not returned it to him. He had previously attended an African Human Rights Defenders conference organised by Amnesty International in South Africa in November 1998. He is a member of a network of human rights defenders in Africa and is the leading human rights lawyer in Djibouti.