Reporters Without Borders voiced relief today at the release of Aklilu Solomon, the Eritrea stringer of the US governmental radio station Voice of America (VOA), after 18 months in secret detention, even if local sources say he had not been allowed to return to his home following his release.
"It is too soon to cry victory because of the bitter taste to the end of this glaring injustice, as it seems the release of a political prisoner in Eritrea does not mean he is free to go home," the press freedom organization said. "Further more, at least 13 other journalists disappeared into Eritrean jails in September 2001 and have never been granted the right to a trial or even to know what they are charged with."
Reporters Without Borders added: "Solomon’s release should prick the consciences of those who have influence over President Issaias Afeworki and push them into demanding the unconditional release of all the journalists who are being unjustly held. As long as they are in prison, Eritrea will continue to be a sad exception in Africa, where the right to information is just a memory."
It has only just emerged that Solomon was released on 31 December along with an unspecified number of other detainees after being held for a year and a half. The news website Asmarino said he was held in a metal container inside May Srwa prison, adjoining Adi Abeyto prison, a few kilometres north of Asmara.
A VOA spokesman said Solomon was "released in December and is today at his home in Asmara" in "reasonably good" health. But a local source told Reporters Without Borders he was still in the western town of Akordat, "perhaps for a debriefing, or to receive military training or reeducation." The same source said he was hospitalized several times while in prison because of malaria or tuberculosis attacks. Eritrean political prisoners are not automatically sent home after release because they may have to do military service.
Solomon was arrested at his home on 8 July 2003, 10 days after being stripped of his official accreditation for referring in a VOA report on 21 June 2003 to the sadness of families on being informed at collective meetings of the deaths of loved-ones who fought as soldiers in the 1998-2000 war against Ethiopia. The state media had reported that the announcement of "martyrs" was greeted with cries of joy.
Eritrean officials had announced at the time that Solomon was taken to a military camp to do his national service. VOA said he did part of his service but was exempt from the rest on medical grounds.