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Eritrea13 September 2004

Last permanent foreign correspondent expelled from Eritrea

Jonah Fisher of the BBC Radio and Reuters, based in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, left the country on Thursday after his accreditation was suddenly withdrawn.

"We condemn this unfair expulsion that follows repeated harassment of Jonah Fisher," Reporters Without Borders said. "Eritrea is in the unique position, with 14 journalists in prison, of being Africa’s biggest prison for journalists and one of very few countries worldwide in which the private press is banned."

No reason was given for Jonah’s expulsion. "But I can guess it’s because I upset them one too many times," he told Agence France-Presse after his departure. In an account of what led up to his expulsion that appeared on the BBC online site he said, "Three weeks ago a conversation with Information Minister Ali Abdu Ahmed about what he called my "racist negative reporting" ended with him announcing that he "knew who I really worked for".

Fisher said the minister told him he had been closely monitoring his phone calls and emails.

"All discussions with government spokesmen dried up and I was informed that I needed a ministry of information permit to venture into the countryside beyond the capital, Asmara - permits which were never granted.

"It was thus no great surprise when I was summoned by a government official this week to be told I had three days to leave the country."

At the end of May Fisher wrote an article in British daily The Independent referring to an Amnesty International report on human rights abuses in Eritrea that was headlined, "For some Eritreans freedom means prison and torture".

No privately-owned media has been able to operate in Eritrea since September 2001, when the government shut down all private newspapers and imprisoned a number of journalists.



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