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Eritrean Information Minister 'invisible' since November

UPDATE: Eritrea: Ali Abdu pleads ignorance of Dawit Isaac's fate (CPJ, 1 February 2013)

(CPJ/IFEX) - 27 December 2012 - The following is a CPJ Blog Post:

By Mohamed Keita/CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator

Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu Ahmed, government spokesman and censor-in-chief of the Red Sea nation, has been invisible in the past few weeks. The total absence of any independent press in Eritrea has allowed the government to maintain complete silence in the face of mounting questions and surging Internet rumors of his defection.

It was on November 17 that U.K.-based Eritrean opposition news website Assena first reported, citing unnamed sources, that Ali had sought asylum in Canada. Ten days later, Madote, a pro-government site, dismissed the Assena report and claimed, citing unnamed witnesses who reported by phone, that Ali was "seen walking in the capital and discussing with citizens."

Radio France Internationale reported on December 18 that Ali had defected in late November during a business trip to Europe and that his home had been searched by security agents. An editorial on U.S.-based Eritrean news site Awate criticized the impulse to pursue scoops on Ali's whereabouts at the expense of investigative reporting and analysis of the reasons behind his possible disappearance.

Amid the contradicting reports, few facts are available. International media and exiled Eritrean journalists agree that Ali traveled to Europe in September before disappearing from view some time in November. Ali is still listed as the minister of information on the government's news portal Shabait, and the dedicated "Contact Ali Abdu" link is still there. Yet, based on images broadcast on state-controlled ERI-TV, Ali was absent from the most recent meeting of cabinet ministers. Was Ali traveling or sick? With the government's absolute stranglehold on news and information, it is virtually impossible to know the truth. "I called the Ministry of Information and the rude bitch hanged up on my face. #WheresAliAbdu +291117111 #smh," tweeted @EriRevoltMay24, a diaspora opposition activist, on December 17.

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