On Sunday, a senior Eritrean official added to the painful uncertainty endured by the families and colleagues of the imprisoned journalists, such as Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isaac, by stating that the government had decided to “move forward,” leaving the journalists and other jailed political dissidents in the eternal oblivion of indefinite detention.
Yemani Gebreab, a senior adviser to Eritrean President Isaias interview with Swedish freelance journalist Donald Boström published on the website of Sunday leading Swedish daily Aftonbladet on Sunday. Gebreab, head of political affairs of Eritrea’s ruling Party For Democracy and Justice, and a target of U.S. sanctions in connection with Eritrea’s alleged involvement in Somalia, was week’s Eritrean Festival, an annual fundraising and cultural event exclusive to expat supporters of the Eritrean government.
Asked about the basis of Isaac’s imprisonment, the
59-year-old former top propagandist for
Aaron Berhane, the exiled former editor-in-chief of Isaac’s newspaper, Setit, remembers the war period very differently. “At that time, the Eritrean government supported the private press by all means,” he told me, explaining that authorities gave journalists the go ahead to move freely, and exempted them from military draft. “We never criticized the government during that war because the Eritrean press law did not allow us to speak on internal affairs during wartime,” Berhane said. “The government was happy with that because we were focused on countering the Ethiopian propaganda and mobilize people to defend the country.”
The war simmered to it present stalemate in June 2000 and by the time the Eritrean government carried out the September 2001 roundup of political dissidents and editors such as Isaac, the private newspapers had shifted focus toward scrutinizing national affairs. “Once the border conflict was over, we said we now have to look at what’s going on in the country and when we started asking tough questions, then the government became very upset,” Berhane said.
Isaac’s brother, Esayas,
who lives in
Gebreab’s comments at times did appear to be at odds with facts. “We were never given an opportunity to express our point of view on this issue,” he claimed, adding “there’s nothing we hide, and therefore we’re willing to communicate and express our views.” Yet, just seconds later, when Boström asked him to give assurances as to whether Isaac was still alive, Gebreab deflected: “I don’t think there’s any point in discussing the specifics of the issue and I have given reason why he’s in detention. The specifics I don’t believe are very important.”
He justified the Eritrean policy by saying, “We can talk
about many, many countries over the past decade or so, especially after the
events of 9/11. Many countries have held people they felt were a serious threat
to their security.” He went on: “So I don't think it's fair to accuse
While Eritreadetained journalists for prolonged periods without charge or trial, the Red Sea nation stands out as the only country to maintain that the condition of the journalists is a state secret while denying them due process. Some of the imprisoned journalists are believed to have died in custody, including Fessehaye Yohannes.
it’s not surprising then that Gebreab should ask: “Can’t Swedish
media find something positive to say about