ERITREA:

CPJ demands government account for "disappeared" journalists



New York, September 16, 2005The Committee to Protect Journalists demanded today that Eritrea, the worst jailer of journalists in Africa, account for 15 journalists who have been held, some in secret prisons, since the government crushed private media and independent reporting four years ago this month.

"Holding these journalists incommunicado without due process is a gross violation of human rights," said Ann Cooper, CPJ Executive Director. "We have not forgotten those brave journalists who continue to languish in Eritrea's secret jails and our hearts go out to their families at this difficult time."

The journalists have virtually disappeared since the September 18, 2001 press crackdown and closure of privately owned newspapers. Eritrean officials have refused to provide information on their health, whereabouts, or legal status. Some reports say they may have been tortured. The government's monopoly of news, and the families' fear of intimidation, make it extremely difficult to gather information about the detainees.

During the crackdown Eritrean authorities arrested at least ten journalists, accusing them variously of avoiding the military draft, threatening national security, and failing to observe licensing requirements. But CPJ research indicates that the crackdown was motivated by political anxiety ahead of elections which were later cancelled. Africa's youngest nation, emerging from a bitter war with neighboring Ethiopia, had become one of its most repressive.

"Eritrea is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa which does not allow private media, depriving all its citizens of their basic right to free expression. Its record on press freedom is an outrage," Cooper said.

Three journalists arrested before the 2001 clampdown remain deprived of their liberty, with two said to be doing extended military service. Two journalists arrested in 2002 also remain in secret jails, according to CPJ research.

The jailed journalists include Fesshaye "Joshua" Yohannes, whom CPJ honored with an International Press Freedom Award in 2002, and Dawit Isaac, who has both Eritrean and Swedish citizenship. Sweden's repeated requests for his release have so far proved fruitless, and Swedish officials have not been allowed to visit him, according to CPJ sources.

See CPJ's list of journalists jailed in Eritrea.







15 Journalists imprisoned in Eritrea


Zemenfes Haile, Tsigenay

Imprisoned: January 1999

Sometime in early 1999, Haile, founder and manager of the private weekly Tsigenay, was detained by Eritrean authorities and sent to Zara Labor Camp in the country's lowland desert. Authorities accused Haile of failing to complete the National Service Program, but sources told CPJ that the journalist completed the program in 1994.

Near the end of 2000, Haile was transferred to an unknown location. CPJ sources say he was released from prison in 2002 but was sent to the army and is still doing national service. CPJ sources in Eritrea believe that Haile's continued deprivation of liberty is part of the government's general crackdown on the press, which began in September 2001.

Ghebrehiwet Keleta, Tsigenay
Imprisoned: July 2000

Keleta, reporter for the private weekly Tsigenay, was kidnapped by security agents on his way to work sometime in July 2000 and has not been seen since. The reasons for Keleta's arrest remain unclear, but some CPJ sources believe that Keleta's continued detention is part of the government's general crackdown on the press, which began in September 2001.

Selamyinghes Beyene
, Meqaleh
Imprisoned: Fall 2001

Beyene, reporter for the independent weekly Meqaleh, was arrested sometime in the fall of 2001. CPJ was unable to confirm the reasons for his arrest, but Eritrean sources believe that his detention is part of the government's general crackdown on the press, which began in September 2001. In 2002 he was taken to do military service, and is still performing his national service requirement, according to CPJ sources.

Amanuel Asrat, Zemen
Imprisoned: in the days following the clampdown of September 18, 2001

Medhanie Haile, Keste Debena
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001

Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Tsigenay
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001

Mattewos Habteab, Meqaleh
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001

Temesken Ghebreyesus, Keste Debena
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001

Said Abdelkader, Admas
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001

Dawit Isaac, Setit
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001
Isaac has Swedish as well as Eritrean citizenship. Efforts by the Swedish government to get him released have been to no avail, while Swedish officials and diplomats have not been allowed to visit him in prison, according to CPJ sources.

Seyoum Tsehaye, freelance
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001

Dawit Habtemichael, Meqaleh
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001

Fesshaye "Joshua" Yohannes, Setit
Imprisoned: in the days following September 18, 2001

In the days following September 18, 2001, Eritrean security forces arrested at least 10 local journalists. The arrests came less than a week after authorities abruptly closed all privately owned newspapers, allegedly to safeguard national unity in the face of growing political turmoil in the tiny Horn of Africa nation.

International news reports quoted presidential adviser Yemane Gebremeskel as saying that the journalists could have been arrested for avoiding military service. Sources in the capital, Asmara, however, say that at least two of the detained journalists, freelance photographer Tsehaye and Mohamed Ali, editor of Tsigenay, are legally exempt from national service. Tsehaye is reportedly exempt because he is an independence war veteran, while Mohamed Ali is apparently well over the maximum age for military service.

CPJ sources in Asmara maintain that the suspension and subsequent arrests of independent journalists were part of a full-scale government effort to suppress political dissent in advance of December 2001 elections, which the government canceled without explanation.

On March 31, 2002, the 10 jailed reporters began a hunger strike to protest their continued detention without charge, according to local and international sources. In a message smuggled from inside the Police Station One detention center in Asmara, the journalists said they would refuse food until they were either released or charged and given a fair trial. Three days later, nine of the strikers were transferred to an undisclosed detention facility. According to CPJ sources, Swedish national Isaac, was sent to a hospital, where he was treated for posttraumatic stress disorder, a result of alleged torture while in police custody.

During a July 2002 fact-finding mission to Asmara, a presidential official told a CPJ delegation that only "about eight" news professionals were being held in detention facilities, whose locations he refused to disclose.

Hamid Mohammed Said, Eritrean State Television
Imprisoned: February 15, 2002

Saleh Aljezeeri, Eritrean State Radio
Imprisoned: February 15, 2002

During a July 2002 fact-finding mission to the capital, Asmara, CPJ delegates confirmed that around February 15, Eritrean authorities arrested Said, a journalist for the state-run Eritrean State Television (ETV); Saadia Ahmed, a journalist with the Arabic-language service of ETV; and Aljezeeri, a journalist for Eritrean State Radio. Ahmed was released, according to CPJ sources, although the date is unclear.

The reasons for their arrests are unclear, but CPJ sources in Eritrea believe that their continued detention is related to the government's general crackdown on the press, which began in September 2001.



2005 Committee to Protect Journalists. http://www.cpj.org/index.html  E-mail:mailto:info@cpj.org