Reporters Without Borders reaffirmed its commitment to 13 jailed journalists in Eritrea as the small Horn of Africa country on 24 May 2005 celebrated the anniversary of its independence from Ethiopia.
"Once again these celebrations are tarnished", the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "Another year has gone past with indignation on our side and suffering and uncertainty on the part of a section of the journalistic elite of the country, who have languished in jail since 2001."
"For Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki to turn this day into a genuine celebration, he would need to release the senior journalists from the newspapers Tsigenay, Meqaleh, Keste Debena, Zeme, Admas and all the other political detainees", it said. "Instead of which the government prefers to insult them each year, while refusing to bring them to trial."
The independent press in May 2001 reported on calls for democratisation from 15 highly-placed officials in the ruling party, known as the ’Group of 15’. By way of reply, on 18 September 2001, the Eritrean government rounded up members of this group and "suspended" the country’s entire privately-owned media. In April 2002, after staging a hunger strike in protest at their imprisonment, ten detained journalists were moved to secret places of detention. Since then nothing is known about their plight. Their families have not been allowed to visit them.
They are: Yusuf Mohamed Ali, editor of Tsigenay; Mattewos Habteab, editor of Meqaleh, and his deputy Dawit Habtemichael; Medhanie Haile and Temesgen Gebreyesus, respectively deputy editor and board member of Keste Debena ; Emanuel Asrat, editor of Zemen; Eritrean-Swedish national Dawit Isaac and Fessehaye Yohannes, of the newspaper Setit; Said Abdulkader, editor of the newspaper Admas, and a freelance photographer, Seyoum Tsehaye. Three journalists working for the state-run press were arrested in January and February 2002, Hamid Mohamed Said and Saidia Ahmed, of public television Eri-TV, and Saleh Al Jezaeeri, of government radio Voice of the Broad Masses.
The authorities announced in 2001 that a parliamentary commission would examine the issue of allowing privately-owned media to operate again in Eritrea. At the end of 2004, information minister, Ali Abdou Ahmed, said that the report was still in preparation. He said the parliamentarians "had been working for three years and three years is not too long,". The minister said the imprisoned journalists were anyway "not journalists, either professionally or ethically" but "enemy agents during and after the war" against Ethiopia from 1998-2000.