CPJ Welcomes Release of Eritrean Journalist Ruth Simon

International Press Freedom Award Recipient Was Imprisoned 20 Months

| News Alert Index | CPJ Home |

New York, N.Y., Dec. 29, 1998 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today welcomed news of the release of Ruth Simon, an award-winning journalist from Eritrea who has been imprisoned there since April 1997. Simon, a correspondent for Agence France-Presse, received CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in absentia on November 24.

AFP reported in a news story from Nairobi today that an Eritrean Information Ministry spokesman said the government had freed Simon.

"This is very good news," said Kakuna Kerina, CPJ's Africa program coordinator, who organized the campaign to win Simon's release and monitored her case since her arrest. "We are indeed relieved that this courageous journalist, whose only crime was in carrying out her professional responsibility to report the news, can return to her family, including two children-one just an infant at the time of her detention-wrested from her care. We now seek assurance that her release is unconditional, that she will be free to resume her work and to travel freely, and that she will be compensated for all her suffering."

More than 300 prominent journalists, media executives, human rights activists, and others at CPJ's annual awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria signed a petition to President Afwerki urging Simon's immediate and unconditional release.

A citizen of Eritrea, Simon, 36, was arrested on April 25, 1997, and had been held since then without trial. Her alleged crime was reporting that President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea had said at a forum she attended that Eritrean soldiers were fighting alongside rebels in neighboring Sudan. The day after her arrest, AFP published a statement by Eritrea's ruling party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, denying that the president had made such remarks or that the country was involved in Sudan's civil war. Sudan's opposition military and political coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, is based in Asmara.

President Afwerki announced on May 11 this year that Simon would face trial and the state would sue AFP for using a "so-called agent" to disseminate false information. Simon was responsible for the clandestine publications of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front during Eritrea's war for independence from Ethiopia and was the editor in chief of BANA, the publication of the Association for the Reintegration of Eritrean Women Guerrilla Fighters. She was the first journalist to be arrested in Eritrea since it became a state in 1993. Afwerki personally ordered her imprisonment for "publishing false information" in violation of the national press law.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard freedom of the press and journalists worldwide. CPJ is financed entirely by donations from individuals, news organizations and foundations; it accepts no government funding. Its annual survey of press freedom violations, Attacks on the Press in 1998, will be published in March of 1999.