Jailed journalists on hunger strike

New York, April 3, 2002—Ten independent Eritrean journalists who have been jailed without charge since September began a hunger strike on March 31 to protest their continued detention, according to local and international sources.
In a message smuggled from inside the Police Station One detention center in the capital, Asmara, the journalists said they would refuse food until they are either released or charged and given a fair trial.

“We are greatly disturbed by the senseless and continued detention of our Eritrean colleagues, who were jailed simply for doing their job,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We urgently call on President Isaias Afeworki to ensure their immediate and unconditional release.”

Dismal press freedom record
Eritrea currently jails more journalists than any country in Africa. A total of 11 independent journalists were in Eritrean government custody at the end of 2001, CPJ’s research shows, while three more from the state press were arrested in mid-February. Meanwhile, six Eritrean journalists have managed to flee abroad.

Eritrean authorities arrested most of the reporters after banning the entire private press on September 18. CPJ sources in Asmara say the private press was banned as a part of a larger clampdown on political dissent, which the government justified on national security grounds.