Journalist abducted by security forces, many others still missing

The fate of a dozen journalists remains unclear.

New York, August 6—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the safety of Mattewos Habteab, editor-in-chief of the private Tigrigna-language MeQaleh newspaper, who sources believe is being forced to perform military work in retaliation for his critical journalism.

According to local and international news reports, state security forces kidnapped Habteab on the afternoon of July 25 in the Eritrean capital, Asmara. Eritrean journalists contacted by CPJ say that Habteab had received a conscription notice from the Defense Ministry days prior to his disappearance.

Noting that soccer players, artists, singers, and musicians are exempt from military service, MeQaleh published a July 26 editorial calling on the Eritrean government to improve its treatment of independent journalists.

Echoing MeQaleh, CPJ sources in Asmara believe that the national service is being used in reprisal against independent journalists who criticize the regime of President Isaias Afeworki.

Meanwhile, the fate of a dozen journalists remains unclear, despite CPJ’s June 7 letter to Justice Minister Foazia Hashim seeking information about their locations.

In a June 11 reply to CPJ, the minister wrote that news outlets and nongovernmental organizations in Asmara currently employ some of the journalists. The remaining journalists, the minister claimed, “are performing their obligations in the National Service Program.”

Those include: Paolos Zaid (Eritrean Profile), Zemenfes Haile (Tsigenay), Ghebrehiwet Keleta (Tsigenay), Yebio Ghebremedhin (Mekalih), Muluberhan Habtegebriel (Setit), Amanuel (Mana), Ghebremedhin (Millenium), Said Abdelkader (Admas), Omer “Abu Akla” (Tsigenay), and Meles Nigusse (Tsigenay).

CPJ was unable to verify the minister’s claims independently.

“Eritrean authorities should disclose the journalists’ exact whereabouts immediately,” said Executive Director Ann Cooper. “While CPJ takes no position on military conscription in Eritrea, we fear that the draft is being applied selectively to punish journalists who report critically on the government.”