Detention and Torture of ex-Air Force Pilot Ignites Djibouti Protest

Revelations of indefinite detention and torture of an ex- air force pilot, Fouad Youssouf Ali, by the Djibouti gov't sparked protests
Ex-air force pilot, Fouad Youssouf Ali, escaped to Ethiopia on March 27 after exposing the rampant marginalization and discrimination within the army. However, he was arrested in April after Ethiopia rejected his asylum and handed back to the Djibouti government.


An ex-Djibouti military man has been accused of committing treason, a move which saw him arrested and detained, sparking demonstrations on Friday, in an incident which has seen neighbouring Eritrea also sucked into the controversy.

Fouad Youssouf Ali, who worked as a pilot in Djibouti Air Force, has been in police cells since April 20 without the government giving a justifiable reason, but it’s a video of him being held in what is believed to be washrooms, that ignited protests across the capital, Djibouti.

Hundreds of residents lit bonfires within Djibouti, demanding for the immediate release of the former officer, with some accusing President Ismael Omar Guelleh of reintroducing dictatorship in the tiny nation at the Horn of Africa.

But in a statement on Saturday, Attorney General Jama Suleyman, who is also the government legal advisor, accused Youssouf of committing “treason”.

Youssouf, he said, “tried” to fly a plane to an “enemy country”, Eritrea in March this year.

Without delving into many details, Jama said the ex-military man fled to the neighboring Ethiopia, where he tried to apply for asylum but had not been granted. On April 20, he added, the pilot was extradited to Djibouti by the authorities in Addis Ababa.

Protestors had termed his incarceration “inhumane” and demanded that the government shows respect to “humanity” by apologizing to the nation for the “unfortunate” incident. Some had called for the resignation of top security officials, local media reported.

Zakaria Abdullahi, who has been acting as his lawyer, demanded the release of his client on bail, arguing that he deserves a “fair” trial in compliance with the country’s laws. The detainee, he told Voix de Djibouti, had a right to see his legal team on May 13, when he was allowed to visit him.

“That was the first time and the last I saw him,” he said, at the same time questioning the time of arrest in Ethiopia, which he insists that was “improperly documented” based on the first account details from his client.

Existing details according to him show that the pilot was arrested in Ethiopia on April 12 and extradited the same day, contrary to the government’s claim. At the time of arrest, he noted, the pilot had not been granted asylum by Addis Ababa.

Marginalization and Discrimination

(Hiiraan Online) – In a video that has surfaced online, a woman claiming to be Ali’s wife narrates the circumstances that led to Ali’s arrest.

According to Samira Jama Abdi (wife), Ali fled Djibouti for Ethiopia on March 27 this year after complaining of marginalization and discrimination in the army. He was however arrested early April as he sought asylum.

“We believe he was arrested by Ethiopian intelligence and handed over to the Djibouti government,” Samira said. “Prior to his fleeing, he had gone without salary and his children were suffering. That is what caused him to flee his country after opposing his generals over what he termed as discriminatory orders.”

Samira added that she received a call from Gabood central jail in Djibouti in May confirming her husband was in jail. They said he asked me to bring food, Samira said.

But even as Samira’s version of events was filtering through, another video appeared online this time around showing Ali pleading for help. In the video, Ali said he had been tortured and was detained in a toilet.

The video shows what appears to be several wounds from his thighs to the ankle.

Fouad Youssouf, who has served in the air force for 10 years, calls on Djiboutians to ‘stand against the government and fight for their rights.’

Reacting to the protests, Interior Minister Mumin Ahmed Sheikh Thursday warned against the demos noting it had resulted in damage to property.

The government of Djibouti is yet to formally respond regarding the soldier’s detention.