Dear Secretary Rumsfeld:
A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today delivered more than 600 petitions to the Eritrean ambassador to the United States. The petitions, signed by prominent U.S. journalists who attended the CPJ benefit dinner in November, urge Eritrea’s president Isaias Afewerki to immediately and unconditionally release Eritrean editor Fesshaye Yohannes, a recipient of CPJ’s 2002 International Press Freedom Award, and all other journalists currently in Eritrean jails.
In writing to you, CPJ hopes that you will raise the continued imprisonment without charge of Fesshaye Yohannes and his colleagues in future meetings with Eritrean authorities. In December 2002, you met with President Afewerki while visiting Eritrea to investigate possible sites for a U.S. military base. When asked at a press conference about the country’s abysmal press freedom record you noted that Eritrea “is a sovereign nation, and they arrange themselves and deal with their problems in ways that they feel are appropriate to them.”
You may not have been aware when you gave that reply that Eritrea is Africa’s foremost jailer of journalists. According to CPJ’s research, Eritrea has been holding a total of 18 journalists in unknown detention facilities since September 2001, when the Afewerki regime banned the private press and arrested independent journalists for advocating democratic reforms. A dozen senior state officials, as well as two local employees of the U.S. embassy, were also arrested. All remain in jail without charge.
Given this record, we hope that the U.S. government will not only make a public expression of concern but will also seek to use its considerable influence with the Eritrean government to promote greater respect for press freedom and to seek the release of Fesshaye Yohannes and his imprisoned colleagues in Eritrea.
We thank you for your attention to this extremely urgent matter. We await your response.
Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor
Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs