On the eve of the third anniversary of a round-up of journalists and the elimination of the independent press in Eritrea, Reporters Without Borders today renewed its call to the authorities to free the detained journalists and let the privately-owned media resume working so that Africa’s youngest nation may cease to also be the continent’s biggest prison for the press.
There has been no privately-owned press in Eritrea since President Issaias Afeworki’s crackdown on 18 September 2001. For the past three years, the only source of news for Eritreans has been the governmental press and the few international radio stations whose signals can be received.
What’s more, the last foreign journalist in Eritrea, BBC stringer Jonah Fisher, was expelled from the country at the start of September after being publicly criticised by the information minister.
The situation is unique in the world. Eritrea has been in an extended news blackout since that night in September 2001 when the government closed the privately-owned newspapers and imprisoned the leading journalists. Thanks to President Afeworki’s stubbornness, Eritrea today is still the only country in Africa and one of the few in the world where only the government’s press has the right to publish.
At least 14 journalists are still being held in unknown and possibly very harsh conditions. The authorities release no information about them, not even the location or type of prison in which they are being held. Members of the government and ruling party have on several occasions call the imprisoned journalists "traitors to the nation" but no charges have ever been announced.