Djibouti Detains and Deports Tory MP Loughton for China Criticism, Somaliland Support

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Former minister sanctioned by Beijing believes his expulsion from Djibouti was a ‘direct consequence’ of his criticism of the Chinese regime

A former minister sanctioned by China was detained and deported by an East African country with close ties to the Chinese state, The Telegraph can reveal.

Tim Loughton, a senior member of the Commons’ home affairs committee, believes his unprecedented and “intimidating” detention and expulsion by the Djibouti authorities was a “direct consequence” of his criticism of the Chinese regime.

It is understood the Foreign Office is seeking an explanation from the Djiboutis over his treatment. Mr Loughton has raised the affair with Andrew Mitchell, the deputy Foreign Secretary, and written to the Djibouti ambassador via the Foreign Office to protest about the “outrageous” behaviour.

Mr Loughton arrived in Djibouti on April 8 for a 24-hour visit including meeting the British ambassador, but was detained for more than seven hours at the airport, barred entry to the country and told he was being removed on the next available flight.

Mr Loughton is one of seven parliamentarians sanctioned by the Chinese more than three years ago for speaking out against the “industrial scale” of human rights abuses by China against the Uighurs, Tibetans and Hong Kongers.

Djibouti, Africa’s smallest nation, has received billions of dollars of investment from China, including a new stadium, hospital and $1 billion (£791 million) space port. China has built a naval base in the country, stationed 2,000 troops there and holds more than $1.4 billion of Djibouti’s debt, 45 per cent of its GDP.

Tim Loughton waiting in the airport's departure lounge after deportation from Djibouti
Tim Loughton waiting in the airport’s departure lounge after deportation from Djibouti

In an exclusive article on his ordeal for The Telegraph, Mr Loughton said it was “just the latest example of intimidation that the seven sanctioned parliamentarians have suffered over the last three years”.

It comes just weeks after it emerged that Mr Loughton was among three MPs and a peer whose parliamentary emails were hacked by the Chinese. On Friday two men were charged with spying for China, including one former researcher in Parliament.

Mr Loughton warned his treatment in Djibouti could set a precedent for other states backed by the Chinese unless the West “woke up” to the “malign and all encompassing tentacles of the Chinese regime at home and abroad”. It is the first time such action has been taken by the Djiboutis against a British citizen.

He was the first off the plane when he arrived in Djibouti at midday from Somaliland and, like other travellers, was preparing to collect his visa as is the normal practice.

“As soon as I revealed I was a British MP, and my passport was checked, things turned decidedly frosty,” he said.

Former minister Tim Loughton's air ticket for Air Djibouti
Former minister Tim Loughton’s air ticket for Air Djibouti

He was held for an hour without any explanation in the arrivals hall after all the other travellers had sailed through border control. An immigration officer then ushered him to a holding room where he was locked in and detained alone for three hours.

A delegation of three officers including the head of the border immigration service appeared and told him that he would not be allowed into Djibouti. Instead, they said he would be put on the next plane out of the country. He was escorted across the airport tarmac to wait in the spartan departure lounge for a 7.15pm flight to Dubai.

“They gave me no reason. I kept saying: ‘Why?’ and they could not tell me,” said Mr Loughton. “In short, it was a highly intimidating and very lonely experience in a very strange country.”

Appeals by the deputy ambassador, who came to the airport after the MP finally managed to get a Wi-Fi connection to call the embassy, were rejected without any explanation.

A Chinese embassy spokesman claimed the allegations about China were “purely baseless” and branded them “fabricated and slanderous rhetoric that attempts to smear China and poison China-UK relations”.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We provided consular support to a British man in Djibouti.”

Apart from Mr Loughton, the seven parliamentarians sanctioned by China are Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader, former Tory ministers Nus Ghani and Neil O’Brien, and Lords David Alton and Helena Kennedy QC.

The Djibouti embassy in Paris has been contacted for comment.


I’m one of seven parliamentarians sanctioned by China – and I’ve been booted out of Djibouti

by Tim Loughton MP

According to a whizzy app on my mobile device I have visited 86 countries around the world. Last week I was due to notch up my 87th with a brief stopover in the tiny East African state of Djibouti on my way back from a delegation to the neighbouring breakaway Republic of Somaliland. In the circumstances I failed to make it beyond the immigration desk and airport tarmac from which I was abruptly deported without explanation after over seven hours in rather frightening detention.

According to Djibouti government advice and our own Foreign Office website, you can purchase a visa to enter Djibouti on arrival. All you need is a ticket for an onward flight and proof of your itinerary and accommodation. Except it would appear, if you are a British MP on a hit list of parliamentarians sanctioned by China, as I have been with four other Conservative MPs for the last three years.

I politely explained that I would be in the country for barely 24 hours, was being picked up at the airport by a tour guide for a visit to Africa’s lowest point, Lake Assal, before checking into one of the country’s most overpriced hotels where I was meeting the British ambassador for a debrief to boot. But as soon as I revealed I was a British MP, and my passport was checked, things turned decidedly frosty. Despite showing every piece of paperwork I had about my 24-hour stop-over in Africa’s smallest country, a particularly surly border official was having none of it.

I was ushered to sit in the naughty corner whilst everyone else who had spilled off my flight behind me was welcomed into the country like long-lost friends. After an hour of no progress and being assured that there was no problem, and that they were just following procedures, I was ushered into another room with a flight of stairs leading nowhere. I should have twigged when the guard doing the ushering quickly turned tail and locked the door behind him. Another hour passed without any explanation, no provisions as it was still Ramadan and crucially, no Wi-Fi connection.

Three hours into my ordeal a delegation of three immigration officials came to inform me that there was a problem but they wouldn’t tell me what; that I would not be allowed to enter the country and that I would be put on the next plane out, four hours later. And that with access to duty free and a café (closed for Ramadan) I had everything I needed for the long wait ahead. Except, of course, I had no way of knowing whether there was a seat on the next plane out or how I secured a ticket, let alone what had happened to my luggage. In short, it was a highly intimidating and very lonely experience in a very strange country.

The only crumb of comfort came when I was eventually able to log on to the airport Wi-Fi and contacted the British embassy. Beyond the call of duty but very welcome all the same, the deputy ambassador hotfooted it to the airport stopping only to stock up on crisps, biscuits and drinks. Yet even he was unable to get the Djiboutian commissars to release me and I was duly escorted to the flight home 24 hours ahead of schedule.

It is now clear this was no accident but instead a direct consequence of being one of the seven British parliamentarians sanctioned by China now over three years ago, for speaking out against the industrial scale human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist government against the Uighurs, Tibetans and now increasingly those from Hong Kong.

During our visit to plucky Somaliland the threat from China was regularly raised. Whilst African regimes have seen the mouths of their leaders stuffed with gold by the munificent Chinese, Somaliland has steadfastly resisted the curse of Croesus. Indeed, Somaliland has almost uniquely recognised China’s nemesis Taiwan as a sovereign state and accorded each other mutual diplomatic status.

China has now built 100 ports around Africa since 2000 as part of its trillion dollar belt and road initiative. In common with many African nations, Djibouti has benefitted from China’s apparent munificence. They have financed a new stadium, the People’s Palace, a foreign affairs ministry, an $8.2 million hospital and now a $1 billion project to build Africa’s first space port.

In 2016 they started construction of a Chinese naval base paying rent on a long lease. 2,000 Chinese troops are now permanently stationed there, and they have built a pier big enough to accommodate Chinese aircraft carriers. Not far away two Iranian military vessels are moored reportedly feeding intelligence to their Houthi friends across the Red Sea.

But all this comes at a price. Djibouti is one of the most indebted countries in Africa. And who is their largest creditor? You guessed it – China. China is holding more than $1.4 billion in debt – the equivalent of about 45 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund. Djibouti is among 22 African countries considered to be in financial distress, according to the World Bank.

Systematically snuffing out freedoms

And of course, money buys influence. Whilst in 2019 we were denouncing China’s genocide in Xinjiang, ambassadors from 50 countries to the United Nations, including Djibouti and many African nations signed a letter to the president of the UN Human Rights Council to voice their support for China’s position on issues related to its Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The following year Djibouti was one of 53 countries that backed China’s National Security Law which has been systematically snuffing out freedoms and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

In 2018 the Djibouti government booted out the Emirates-owned DP World from running the main port which dominates the country and two years later awarded a 23.5 per cent stake to the Chinese, an arrangement which is the subject of ongoing international legal action. Fired up by more than a modest feeling of being shafted, DP World now runs the rapidly expanding port of Berbera in Somaliland with the potential to become the most important port on the Gulf of Aden, transforming the country’s economy and threatening the dominance of Djibouti.

An impressive new highway funded by Dubai and the UK links Berbera to the capital Hargeisa and on to the Ethiopian border, with the highway onward to Addis Ababa well under construction.

Ethiopia is one of the emerging economic powers in Northern Africa and key to its success is a link to the sea which previously had been focussed on Djibouti. But now a memorandum of understanding between Ethiopia and Somaliland threatens to change all that. In return for a long-term access agreement to Berbera, Ethiopia has offered to recognise the state of Somaliland officially, which would bring that breakaway state into the international fold. It would pave the way for western countries to recognise this oasis of stability and relative safety in a turbulent region since this democracy of 6.2 million people declared independence from the anarchy that is Somalia back in 1991.

Somalilanders cannot understand why the UK and other western nations have not exactly rushed to recognise Somaliland, based on its historic boundaries as a former British Protectorate. The country is an investable fledgling democracy which actually likes its former colonial power and is pro-West.

Pirates, terrorists and authoritarian Left-wing regimes dominate the coastline to the south and north, whilst across the Red Sea pro-Iranian Houthis fire missiles at Western shipping. Surely Western powers should be biting the arm off the Somaliland government to acknowledge their legitimacy, establish closer relations, investment opportunities and a strategic military foothold?

So for China, Somaliland represents a threat. A threat to its economic investments in this part of Africa; a threat to its military ambitions across the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa; and a threat to the influence it has bought in international assemblies through its many African “client states” for want of a better arrangement.

What China wants, Djibouti wants too. And when an annoying yet insignificant British MP turns up in the neighbourhood having spouted support for the integrity of Somaliland and casting aspersions about China’s real intentions in the region then of course Djibouti wants to stick it to him and impress its largest creditor.

This is just the latest example of the intimidation that the seven sanctioned British parliamentarians have suffered over the last three years. It comes hard on the heels of course of the recent revelation that three years ago our parliamentary email accounts were hacked and Westminster’s security compromised by the malign Chinese state.

It pales into insignificance of course compared with the violence, torture and murder suffered over many decades by millions of Tibetans, Uighurs, Hong Kongers and others we stand up for in our Western democratic institutions.

So I won’t be notching up the Djibouti arrivals desk as my 87th country visited. Instead, it will head a new list of countries from which I have been deported, a list which threatens to grow unless the West wakes up and takes seriously the malign and all-encompassing tentacles of the Chinese regime at home and abroad.