Kidane, a presenter with the Amharic service of state broadcaster Eri-TV and state Radio Dimtsi Hafash (Voice of the Broad Masses), died in unknown circumstances after setting out on foot to cross into Sudan with a group of seven asylum-seekers, according to several CPJ sources. Kidane sought to leave Eritrea because of years of professional repression, according to family, colleagues, and personal notes he sent out of the country that were reviewed by CPJ.
Kidane’s companions were forced to leave him in the care of residents of a village in northwest Eritrea after the journalist collapsed from seven days of walking in temperatures of more than 100 degrees, according to a woman who traveled with him and who spoke with CPJ through an interpreter. He was suffering from severe foot blisters and had an epileptic seizure, she said. Kidane’s condition was not critical when the group left him, the woman insisted, saying that even in the event of complications, he would have survived had he received proper medical care. She believed Kidane may have been captured by government security forces. The village in which he was left is believed to be populated by government informants.
In a telephone interview with CPJ in August, Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu acknowledged that the journalist died while attempting to leave the country, but he offered no information about the circumstances. ”We don’t know,” he said.
Kidane’s passions for sports, particularly soccer, and poetry had led him to begin his journalism career as a freelance sportswriter in his native Ethiopia in the mid-1990s, according to his brother. In May 1998, at the outbreak of the border war, he was among more than 65,000 people of Eritrean descent deported from Ethiopia. He became the sports editor of the now-defunct independent weekly Admas in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, according to exiled Admas founder Khaled Abdu. In 2000, authorities exploited his skill in Amharic and knowledge of Ethiopia by conscripting him into state media service to broadcast anti-Ethiopian propaganda, and as a film and stage actor playing the roles of villainous Ethiopian military officers. In November 2006, he was among nine state media journalists summarily detained for several weeks without charge, according to CPJ research.
Kidane, 40, was survived by a wife and infant daughter, according to his brother.