World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers


Eritrea's independent press, jailed since September 2001

Eritrea's independent press, jailed since September 2001

Article ID:

17641

 

Day 14
Country: Eritrea
Journalists: September 2001 cases
Media: Eritrea’s independent press
Jailed since: September 2001


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#FreethePress calls for the liberation of the independent press in #Eritrea and freedom for its 22 jailed journalists bit.ly/1gCHPpM


On September 18, 2001, Aaron Berhane, the former editor-in-chief of Setit newspaper, turned on his radio to listen to the morning news. “It was 7.am on an average day in September in Asmara in Eritrea,” he wrote later on a blog for the Committee to Protect Journalists. But what he heard next was startling: “Starting today, September 18, 2001, the government has ordered all private presses to stop their publications.” The presenter for Dimtsi Hafash Radio then continued that journalists had violated press laws and ignored warnings.

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That morning was the last time Berhane's newspaper was sold on the streets of Asmara. Eleven senior officials who had criticised the president in an open letter published in Setit had been thrown in jail, and over the coming days many of his colleagues would be arrested and never seen again.

During the course of September 2001, ahead of elections that would never happen, authorities rounded up and jailed at least ten journalists, allowing Eritrea's burgeoning press to vanish in just days.

The journalists included: Mehanie Haile, deputy editor of Keste Debena (Rainbow); Dawit Isaak, owner and co-founder of Setit; Seyoum Tsehay, freelancer and former director of Eri-TV; Fessehaye Yohannes or “Joshua”, co-founder of Setit; Said Abdulkader, founder and editor of Admas; Yusuf Mohamed Ali, editor of Tsigenay; Amanuel Asrat, editor of Zemen (The Time); Temesghen Gebreyesus, sports journalist; Mattewos Habteab, editor and co-founder of Meqaleh; and Dawit Habtemichael, deputy editor and co-founder of Meqaleh. None of them were charged before being detained incommunicado in secret locations. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has persistently refused to disclose information on their legal status, whereabouts and health conditions.

At the time, Eritrea – nuzzled between Ethiopia and Yemen on the Red Sea coast – was the youngest nation in Africa. It's independent press was just in its nascence. The legacy of a 30-year war for independence left its mark on the country's editors: “Many of us looked to the future with great hopes and a dream of seeing a democratic government established in our beloved country,” wrote Aaron Berhane, adding that these hopes were transferred to editorials. However, there was no room for dissent under President Afwerki and the government increasingly kept a close eye on their work before their arrests.

Eritrea has pursued one of the heaviest clampdowns on media in the world, and there has been no independent press since 2001. Journalists have frequently disappeared into the country's brutal Eiraeiro prison. As of late last year, 22 journalists were behind bars in Eritrea, and although CPJ says some of them might have died, they will remain on its prison census to hold the government accountable.

Suggested Tweet:

#FreethePress calls for the liberation of the independent press in #Eritrea and freedom for its 22 jailed journalists bit.ly/1gCHPpM

 


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wm_WanIfra

Date

2014-04-17 09:13

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Andrew Heslop

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