Africa’s youngest country is still the continent’s largest prison for journalists. Thirteen of them, including most of the newspaper’s editors from before 2001, are being secretly held, somewhere in the country, without ever going before a court, see a lawyer or speak to their families. The government, which controls the country with an iron fist, claims that they are traitors to the country, Ethiopian spies or deserters. It is not known if they are still alive.
In November, the disturbing episode of the two-day release of the founder of the weekly Setit, Dawit Isaac, served as a reminder of the extent to which President Issaias Afeworki is pitiless towards those he considers his opponents. The journalist was released on 19 November and was able to phone his wife and friends who are in exile in Sweden to tell them he would be joining them. But the Eritrean government, for unknown reasons, decided to throw him back in prison two days later, to general bewilderment.