19 September 2002


18 journalists still in jail one year after ban on independent media

Incident details

Simret Seyoum, Hamid Mohamed Said, Saidia, Saleh al-Jezaeeri, Zemenfes Haile, Ghebrehiwet Keleta, Temesgen Gebreyesus, Emanuel Asrat, Dawit Isaac, Fessehaye Yohannes, Said Abdulkader, Seyoum Tsehaye, Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Mattewos Habteab, Dawit Habtemichael, Medhanie Haile, Selamyinghes Beyene, Binyam Haile

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(RSF/IFEX) - On 17 September 2002, RSF called on the international community, especially the United Nations and the European Union, to take sanctions against the rulers of Eritrea to force them to lift their one year-old ban on all privately-owned newspapers and free 18 jailed journalists.

"It is unacceptable that a government can deprive a whole people of their right to be informed with complete impunity," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "We appeal to the Eritrean authorities, notably President Issaias Afeworki, to allow all privately-owned press to publish again."

All independent newspapers were shut down on 18 September 2001 and 18 journalists have since been arrested. A year later, the journalists whereabouts are unknown and they are being held without charge or trial. Other journalists have fled abroad to Europe, North America and elsewhere in Africa.

Eritrea is the only country in Africa, and one of the few in the world, with no private press. Only government media, tightly controlled by the regime, is permitted. The few resident foreign correspondents have left the country because they could no longer operate freely and safely.

Background Information

On 18 September 2001, the country's privately-owned newspapers announced that they were publishing their last issues until further notice after receiving government orders to shut down. The head of state television said on the air that "the privately-owned media had had time to fix their erring ways" and were "endangering the country's unity."

Around the same time, at least 10 journalists were arrested and taken to the main police station in Asmara, the capital. They are Yusuf Mohamed Ali, editor-in-chief of "Tsigenay", who had been jailed for several weeks in October 2000; Mattewos Habteab, editor-in-chief of "Meqaleh", arrested several times in 2000 and 2001; Dawit Habtemichael, deputy editor-in-chief of "Meqaleh"; Medhanie Haile, deputy editor-in-chief of "Keste Debena"; Temesgen Gebreyesus, a board member at "Keste Debena"; Emanuel Asrat, editor of "Zemen"; Dawit Isaac and Fessehaye Yohannes of the newspaper "Setit"; Said Abdulkader, a journalist for the magazine "Admas"; and freelance photographer Seyoum Tsehaye.

Since then, four other journalists have been arrested. They include Simret Seyoum, managing editor of "Setit"; Hamid Mohamed Said and Saidia of the public television station Eri-TV; and Saleh al-Jezaeeri of the public radio station Voice of the Broad Masses.

Four other journalists have not been heard from. They are Zemenfes Haile, former founder and manager editor of "Tsigenay", who may be detained at a desert camp since 1999; Ghebrehiwet Keleta, also with "Tsigenay", was reportedly arrested in July 2000; and Selamyinghes Beyene of "Meqaleh" and Binyam Haile of "Haddas Eritrea" are believed to have been arrested in autumn 2001.


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