Sixteen journalists remain in secret jails

New York, March 3, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists has learned that Voice of America (VOA) correspondent Aklilu Solomon has been released after almost 18 months in jail. He was freed on December 31, 2004, and is said to be in poor health.

Solomon was arrested in July 2003, after the VOA broadcast his report about the grief of families of soldiers killed in the war with Ethiopia. His story contradicted state media reports that families had celebrated the conscripts’ martyrdom. Authorities claimed that Solomon had been taken to complete his military service, although the VOA said he had documents to show he has a medical exemption. CPJ sources said Solomon was held incommunicado in a metal shipping container at Adi Abeto Prison, near the capital, Asmara. He was held without charge.

“We welcome the release of our colleague Aklilu Solomon but deplore the fact that he was detained in the first place,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We remain deeply concerned about the many journalists who are still jailed, without charge and reportedly in appalling conditions. CPJ calls on the Eritrean government to release all the jailed journalists immediately and unconditionally.”

Sixteen journalists remain imprisoned, according to CPJ research. Many of them have been detained since September 2001, when the government launched a brutal crackdown, shuttering all independent media and jailing critics, including journalists. The government has refused to reveal the whereabouts or status of the journalists, and information about their conditions is hard to obtain.