1 April 2003


RSF calls on EU to condition resumption of economic aid on release of detained journalists

Incident details

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


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(RSF/IFEX) - On 28 March 2003, RSF called on the European Union to intervene on behalf of detained journalists in Eritrea. The request was made in a letter to Poul Nielson, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, who is to visit the Horn of Africa from 1 to 7 April.

"Knowing your commitment to human rights and press freedom, we hope you will raise this issue with the Eritrean authorities you meet," RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard said in his letter to Nielson. "Our organisation particularly calls on the European Union to condition the resumption of economic aid to Eritrea on the release of the 18 journalists it has imprisoned and the re-emergence of a free, privately-owned press in the country."

On 18 September 2001, the government ordered the closure of all privately-owned newspapers and launched an unprecedented wave of arrests of Eritrean journalists. A year and a half later, 18 journalists are still detained in undisclosed locations by the authorities. They have not been brought to trial and no official reason has been given for their arrest. Most other journalists have fled the country, finding refuge in Europe, North America or other parts of Africa.

RSF believes it is unacceptable that the authorities of a country can, with full impunity, simply deprive its people of the right to be informed. Eritrea is today the only country in Africa, and one of the last in the world, without privately-owned news media. The only media permitted in Eritrea are those owned by the state, which are under the regime's close control. The small number of foreign correspondents cannot work freely and in complete safety.

At least 18 journalists were imprisoned in Eritrea at the end of 2002. Zemenfes Haile, former editor and founder of "Tsigenay", is believed to have been held in a camp in the desert since 1999. Ghebrehiwet Keleta, another "Tsigenay" journalist, is believed to have been arrested in July 2000. No information is available about the place of detention of these two journalists, or the reasons for which they are being held.

From 18 to 21 September 2001, at least 10 journalists from the privately-owned media were picked up by the authorities and taken to Asmara police station No. 1. The precise reason for their arrest was not announced, but most of them had interviewed or quoted the president's critics. The 10 detained journalists included "Tsigenay"'s editor in chief, Yusuf Mohamed Ali, who had previously been jailed for several weeks in October 2000; Mattewos Habteab, editor-in-chief of "Meqaleh", who had previously been 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 member of "Keste Debena"'s board; Emanuel Asrat, editor-in-chief of "Zemen"; Dawit Isaac and Fessehaye Yohannes, of the newspaper "Setit"; Said Abdulkader, a journalist with the magazine "Admas"; and freelance photographer Seyoum Tsehaye.

The 10 journalists began a hunger strike on 31 March 2002. In a letter from prison, they said they were protesting their illegal detention and demanded "their right to justice," particularly a trial before a "fair and independent court." Nine of them were transferred to an unknown place of detention on 3 April. Police at Asmara police station No. 1 told their relatives the journalists were no longer in their cells. Army personnel and presidential aides had reportedly taken them to a secret location.

The tenth journalist on hunger strike, Isaac, was also transferred to an unknown place after receiving care at Halibet hospital because of ill-treatment during his detention. Two other journalists, Selamyinghes Beyene of "Meqaleh" and Binyam Haile of "Haddas Eritrea", were also reportedly detained in the autumn of 2001.

Three journalists with the state-owned media were arrested in January and February 2002: Hamid Mohamed Said and Saidia, of Eri-TV, and Saleh Al Jezaeeri, of the Voice of the Broad Masses radio station.

Finally, Simret Seyoum, editor of the newspaper "Setit", was arrested on 6 January 2002 near the Sudanese border as he was trying to flee. He is believed to be detained in a prison in the area.


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