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Eritrea

2010



Relying heavily on vague antistate charges, authorities jail 145 journalists worldwide. Eritrea, Burma, and Uzbekistan are also among the worst jailers of the press. A CPJ special report

From Africa to the Americas, more journalists are imprisoned today than at any time since 1996. (AFP)
Senior Eritrean Advisor Yemani Gebreab told Swedish daily Aftonbladet that the government had decided to “move forward,” leaving imprisoned journalists in the eternal oblivion of indefinite detention.
Since a week after September 11, 2001, when the government of Eritrea threw into secret prisons journalists from its once-vibrant private press, the only certainty it has offered about the fate of the prisoners has been ambiguity. Over the years, officials have offered various explanations for the arrests—from nebulous anti-state conspiracies involving foreign intelligence to press law violations. They have even denied that the journalists themselves ever existed. From the Eritrean president to the public relations officer with the Eritrean Ministry of Information, Eritrean officials have been consistent in their refusal to disclose whether the journalists are alive or dead and their suggestion that the journalists will be held indefinitely without formal charge or trial.
Tedros Menghistu's press card from Eritrea. He lives in Houston now.For the better part of the last 20 years, Tedros Menghistu has been a refugee, forced to flee his Red Sea homeland of Eritrea not once, but twice—first as a young man displaced by war in the early 1990s, and then as a professional journalist escaping political censorship and military conscription a decade later. Menghistu is also one of a handful of enterprising former professional journalists uprooted from Eritrea who have started independent news outlets in cities such as HoustonToronto, and London. As outlets for a range of views suppressed by the government in Eritrea, these upstart media platforms work under intimidation from supporters of the Eritrean government. 

New York, May 27, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for a thorough investigation into a May 9 attack on an Eritrean expatriate journalist by supporters of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki at a public event in eastern Texas. The event was advertised locally in printed fliers, and on the pro-government Dehai.org Web site as a “Public Seminar for all Eritreans in Houston and Environs.” Tedros Menghistu Wondefrash, publisher and editor of Selam, a Tigrinyan-language, monthly newsletter printed in Houston, was attacked when he tried to attend, he told CPJ.

Missing journalist Dawit Isaac's brother, Esayas, began the Free Dawit campaign in 2004. (Petra Jankov Picha)

In 2001, Eritrean security forces imprisoned Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isaac along with nine other journalists without trial in September 2001. The arrests effectively shut down the nation’s fledgling independent press and any potential political dissent prior to scheduled December 2001 elections, which were subsequently cancelled. To this day, Dawit is believed to be held incommunicado in a tiny cell in poor health. In all the years since his disappearance, Dawit’s brother, Esayas Isaac, has fought for his release. CPJ spoke to him on May 24, during the week of Eritrea’s 19th Independence Day:

The Berhane family, together in Toronto after eight years apart. From left are Mussie, Aaron, Miliete, Frieta, and Eiven. (Family photo)Eight years ago, Aaron Berhane left his wife and three children behind as he fled his native Eritrea, a fugitive wanted by authorities because his newspaper had dared criticize the government of revered independence leader Isaias Afewerki. In May 2009, Berhane's family managed to escape to Sudan. This month, at last, they joined him in Canada.

A banner in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Petra Jankov Picha)

Journalist Dawit Isaac has spent 3,127 days in government custody in his native Eritrea, according to the ticker on FreeDawit, a Web site based in Sweden, Isaac’s adopted country, where he is a citizen. He has never been publicly charged with a crime or been given a trial. A thorny issue between Sweden and the Red Sea nation for many years, the imprisonment of Isaac sparked disagreement between diplomats for the two countries again this week.

In the reclusive Red Sea nation of Eritrea, the fate of 10 journalists who disappeared in secret prisons following a September 2001 government crackdown has been a virtual state secret—only occasionally pierced by shreds of often unverifiable, secondhand information smuggled out of the country by defectors or others fleeing into exile.

Al-Shabaab militants patrol Mogadishu's Bakara Market, home to several media outlets. (Reuters/Feisal Omar)By Tom Rhodes

High numbers of local journalists have fled several African countries in recent years after being assaulted, threatened, or imprisoned, leaving a deep void in professional reporting. The starkest examples are in the Horn of Africa nations of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, where dozens of journalists have been forced into exile. Zimbabwe, Rwanda, and the Gambia have also lost large segments of the local press corps in the face of intimidation and violence.

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Killed in Eritrea

2 journalists killed since 1992

Attacks on the Press 2012

1st Most censored nation, with domestic media under absolute state control.

Country data, analysis »

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Africa

Program Coordinator:
Sue Valentine

Advocacy Coordinator:
Mohamed Keita

East Africa Consultant:
Tom Rhodes

West Africa Consultant:
Peter Nkanga

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