Tesfay “Gomora” Ghebreab

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A civil servant who also contributed to the privately owned Setit newspaper, Tesfay Ghebreab, also known as Gomora, was among about 11 journalists arrested in September 2001 following a government crackdown on the independent press in Eritrea. Like most of those arrested, Tesfay’s whereabouts, health, and legal status remain unknown as the Eritrean government repeatedly has failed to provide credible answers to questions about imprisoned journalists or to allow visits from family or lawyers.

Tesfay, a director in Eritrea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and contributed freelance articles to Setit, was arrested in September 2001, when the government summarily banned the privately owned press in response to growing criticism of President Isaias Afwerki. The exact date of his arrest is unknown.

Tesfay used to write for Setit at least twice a month, sometimes under a pen name, the publication’s former editor Aaron Berhane told CPJ. Aaron, who died in exile in 2021, said Tesfay’s arrest could have been connected to articles he wrote calling for negotiations to resolve the political crisis between conservatives and reformers in the ruling party. 

Tesfay’s articles in Setit may have been interpreted as endorsing dissidents, Abraham Zere, the then-executive director of the free speech organization PEN Eritrea, told CPJ in 2018. 

Over the years, Eritrean officials have offered vague and inconsistent explanations for the 2001 arrests–accusing journalists of involvement in anti-state conspiracies in connection with foreign intelligence, skirting military service, and violating press regulations. Officials, at times, even denied that the journalists existed. 

Meanwhile, shreds of often unverifiable, second- or third-hand information smuggled out of the country by people fleeing into exile suggested that seven of the journalists arrested in 2001 have died in custody. CPJ confirmed in 2007 that one of the journalists, Fesshaye “Joshua” Yohannes, died in secret detention.

In a 2016 interview with Radio France International about the status of journalists and politicians arrested in 2001, Eritrean Foreign Affairs Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed said "all of them are alive" and "in good hands." Asked if they would face trial, Osman said they would "when the government decides" since some were "political prisoners."

In 2018, Paulos Netabay, director of the state-owned Eritrean News Agency, told CPJ that the arrest of journalists in 2001 was connected to “acts of subversion and treason by some former politicians” and that the cases had been “submitted and decided by the National Assembly.”

In 2021, CPJ and 15 other human rights organizations, journalists, and human rights experts called on the Canadian government to impose targeted sanctions on senior Eritrean officials for human rights abuses, including the imprisonment of journalists. 

In a May 2023 report, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, said the whereabouts and wellbeing of disappeared Eritreans remained unknown, including 16 journalists who had been held for more than 20 years, making them the longest detained journalists in the world. 

As of late 2023, CPJ’s emails to Eritrea’s minister of information, Yemane Ghebremeskel, and via the ministry website did not receive any replies. A person who answered a phone call to the ministry of foreign affairs provided an email address for queries but CPJ’s email did not receive any response. A person who answered two calls at the ministry of justice could not be heard clearly.