The government did not disclose why it arrested Kessete, a reporter for the Amharic-language service of government-controlled radio Dimtsi Hafash, but CPJ sources believe he was suspected of helping people escape the country.
Authorities had previously detained Kessete in early 2009 after he attempted to flee Eritrea himself. His family acted as his guarantor at that time, and he was released. His private website and email were searched by the government during the 2009 arrest, according to CPJ sources. His current location is unknown.
Authorities arrested Edris of the Arabic service of government-controlled Dimtsi Hafash, Usman of the Tigre service, and Osman of the Bilen-language service in February, according to CPJ sources. The reasons for the arrests were not disclosed.
Authorities imprisoned Mebrahtu, a prominent sports journalist with state-run radio Dimtsi Hafash and television Eri-TV, on suspicion of attempting to flee the country, according to CPJ sources. Mebrahtu is reportedly detained in either Mai Serwa or Adi Abeto prison.
While it is very difficult to obtain details from Eritrea, CPJ continues to gather information on the imprisoned from journalists who have recently escaped the country. The government’s motivation in imprisoning journalists is unknown in most cases, but CPJ’s research has found an environment in which state media journalists are under the absolute control of Information Minister Ali Abdu.
The ministry employs some 100 journalists, many of them conscripts under the country’s mandatory national service, and hundreds of support staff, according to journalists in exile. Former state media journalists told CPJ they worked under the close scrutiny and direction of Abdu and his censors, with no editorial freedom. “You’re given directives as to how you write. We had to inform Ali Abdu each time we want to interview someone, and we cannot proceed until he approves,” said one former senior journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to protect relatives still in Eritrea.
Over the years, CPJ has documented a broad pattern of intimidation in which Abdu has arbitrarily imprisoned journalists he suspects of being sources for opposition diaspora news websites or of attempting to leave the country to escape the oppressive conditions. For example, television presenter Paulos Kidane was among several journalists imprisoned in 2006 on suspicion of communicating with opposition websites abroad; he later died while attempting to flee the country. In this context of extreme repression, CPJ considers journalists attempting to escape the country or in contact with third parties abroad as struggling for press freedom.