VOA stringer arrested

New York, July 14, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the arrest of Eritrean journalist Aklilu Solomon, Asmara-based stringer for the U.S. government­funded Voice of America (VOA) news service.

Eritrean security officers arrested Solomon at his home on Tuesday, July 8, and took him to an undisclosed location. Ten days earlier, authorities had stripped the journalist of his press accreditation for reporting on families of soldiers who had died during Eritrea’s 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia. Solomon’s report that the families were anguished over the soldiers’ deaths contradicted state media coverage, which claimed that the families had celebrated when the government publicly announced their relatives’ deaths, according to the VOA. Authorities claim that Solomon’s reporting was biased and designed to “please the enemy.”

Government officials later said that Solomon had been taken to a military camp to complete his mandatory national military service. According to the VOA, however, Solomon had documents proving that he had already completed a part of his service and was exempt from the rest for medical reasons.

On World Press Freedom Day, May 3, 2003, CPJ named Eritrea one of the world’s 10 Worst Places to be a Journalist. In September 2001, the Eritrean government closed all private media outlets in the country and began arresting journalists. Eighteen journalists (including Solomon) now languish in prison, most of them held incommunicado in unknown locations.

“With Aklilu Solomon’s outrageous arrest, the government has eliminated one of the few remaining sources of information about Eritrea,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on Eritrean authorities to immediately release Solomon and his 17 colleagues, and to cease persecuting the independent press.”

Eritrean authorities recently claimed that the imprisoned journalists were “spies” who were bribed to create division in the country.