April 11, 2002
His Excellency Isaias Afeworki
President of Eritrea
Office of the President
P. O. Box 257
Via facsimile: 011-291-11-125123
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about the safety of 13 Eritrean journalists currently in the custody of your government.
The journalists have not been charged with any crime since their September 2001 arrests. On March 31, 10 of the jailed journalists began a hunger strike to protest their unfair imprisonment. In a message smuggled out of Asmara Police Station One, where they are being detained, 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 hunger strikers were transferred to an undisclosed detention facility. According to CPJ sources, a tenth journalist, Swedish national Dawit Isaac, was sent to a hospital where he is being treated for post-traumatic stress, a result of alleged torture while in police custody.
Most of the jailed journalists were arrested around September 18 after Your Excellency’s government imposed a blanket ban on all private and independent publications in the country. Some Eritrean officials tried to justify this drastic act of censorship by claiming that members of the private press threatened Eritrea’s state security and the “unity” of the Eritrean people.
Other officials claimed that the journalists refused to participate in a compulsory national service program. Still others claimed that their newspapers did not have proper publication licenses.
In addition to Dawit Isaac, the detained journalists are:
- Yosef Mohamed Ali, the chief editor of Tsigenay
- Amanuel Asrat, the chief editor of Zemen
- Seyoum Tsehaye, a freelance editor and photographer and the former director of Eritrean state television
- Temesgen Gebreyesus, a reporter for Keste Debena
- Mattewos Habteab, editor of Meqaleh
- Dawit Habtemichael, assistant chief editor, Meqaleh
- Medhanie Haile, assistant chief editor, Keste Debena
- Fessahaye Yohannes, a reporter for Setit
- Said Abdulkadir, the chief editor of Admas.
Around February 15, Eritrean authorities arrested and jailed three state-run media employees for reasons that remain unclear. They include:
- Hamid Mohammed Said (Eritrean state television, ETV)
- Saleh Aljezeeri (Eritrean state radio), and
- Saadia (full name unknown) a female journalist with the Arabic-language service of ETV.
We remind Your Excellency that Eritrea currently jails more journalists than any country in Africa. As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues and promoting press freedom around the world, CPJ believes that journalists should never be imprisoned for fulfilling their professional duties. We therefore urge Your Excellency to ensure that all journalists currently jailed for their work in Eritrea are immediately and unconditionally released. We also call on your government to disclose the whereabouts of our jailed colleagues without further delay. We thank you for your attention to these extremely urgent matters and await your reply.