Security forces raided government-controlled Radio Bana in February 2009 and arrested its entire staff, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable disclosed by WikiLeaks in November 2010.
The cable, sent by then-U.S. Ambassador Ronald McMullen and dated February 23, 2009, attributed the information to the deputy head of mission of the British Embassy in Asmara in connection with the detention of a British national who volunteered at the station. According to the cable, the volunteer reported being taken by security forces with the Radio Bana staff to an unknown location six miles (10 kilometers) north of the capital and later being separated from them. The volunteer was not interrogated and was released the next day. According to the cable, some of the station’s staff members were released as well.
CPJ sources said that at least 12 journalists working for Radio Bana had been held incommunicado since the raid. The reasons for the detentions were unclear, but CPJ sources said the journalists were either accused of providing technical assistance to two opposition radio stations broadcasting into the country from Ethiopia, or of participating in a meeting in which detained journalist Meles Nguse spoke against the government. The staff’s close collaboration with two British nationals on the production of educational programs may have also led to their arrests, according to the same sources.
Several of the detainees had worked for other state media outlets before beginning stints at Radio Bana, a station sponsored by the Education Ministry. Ghirmai was the producer of an arts program with government-controlled state radio Dimtsi Hafash, and Issak had produced a Sunday entertainment show on the same station. Issak and Mulubruhan, a reporter with state daily Haddas Erta, had also co-authored a book of comedy. Bereket (also a film director and scriptwriter), Meles (also a poet), and Yirgalem(a poet as well) were columnists for Haddas Erta. CPJ had identified one of the detainees as Esmail Abd-el-Kader in a previous survey. Further research indicated his name is more commonly spelled Ismail Abdelkader.
Authorities have not responded to numerous inquiries from CPJ and other international groups seeking information about the detainees’ whereabouts, health, and legal status.