Reporters Without Borders has learned that three Eritrean state media journalists were recently released after being held for several weeks at police station No. 5 in the capital, Asmara, but a fourth is still being held.
Those freed were Temesghen Abay of Radio Dimtsi Hafash’s Tigrinya-language service, Getachew Asfaha of Eri-TV’s Amharic-language service and Asmerom Berhe of Eri-TV’s Tigrinya-language service. Getachew Asfaha was freed on 16 February. The exact date of the release of Temesghen Abay and Asmerom Berhe is not known.
They were detained in the course of a wave of arrests of public media journalists launched on 12 November following the defection of several prominent journalists, which had particularly irked the government. They appear to have been suspected of staying in contact with the defectors or of planning to flee the country themselves
In all, nine state media journalists have been arrested and then released on bail, one after another. Since their release, they have been followed, their phones have been tapped, they have been forced to go back to work and they have been expressly forbidden to leave Asmara.
26.01.2007 - On eve of African Union summit, UN secretary-general urged to intercede on behalf of press freedom in Eritrea
On the eve of the African Union summit on 29-30 January in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, Reporters Without Borders today urged the new United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki Moon, to make an official protest to the Eritrean government about the arbitrary imprisonment of journalists and the total absence of press freedom in Eritrea since 2001.
“As Ban said he is making the defence of human rights and Africa one of his priorities, we call on him not to remain indifferent to the hell that most Eritrean journalists have to live every day,” the press freedom organisation said. “It would be incomprehensible if, on the eve of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, he did not publicly condemn the unacceptable behaviour of President Isaias Afeworki and his government towards the press.”
According to information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, at least three state media journalists are currently detained in Asmara, while another 13 journalists have been held incommunicado since 2001. At least three of the latter may have died in the course of the past two years at a detention centre in the northeastern locality of Eiraeiro.
Temesghen Abay of Radio Dimtsi Hafash’s Tigrinya-language service, Getachew Asfaha of Eri-TV’s Amharic-language service and Asmerom Berhe of Eri-TV’s Tigrinya-language service are currently held at No. 5 police station in the capital, Asmara. Abay is one of the state media journalists who was picked up in a wave of arrested that began on 12 November 2006. Asfaha was arrested in early December. Berhe was arrested during the week of 18-22 December. The reasons for these arrests are not known.
Paulos Netabay, the editor of the governmental daily Haddas Eritrea, was also arrested in late November. The information obtained by Reporters Without Borders about his current situation is contradictory. He interviewed President Isaias on Eri-TV on 1 January but it is possible that he is still being kept in detention and is being forced to go to work.
All of the other journalists arrested in November - presenter Senait Tesfay of Eri-TV’s Tigrinya-language service, Paulos Kidane of Eri-TV’s Amharic-language service and Radio Dimtsi Hafash, Daniel Mussie of Radio Dimtsi Hafash’s Oromo-language service, Yemane Haile of the Eritrean News Agency (ENA), presenter Fathia Khaled of Eri-TV’s Arabic-language service and Amir Ibrahim of Eri-TV’s Arabic-language service - were released on bail after being held for several weeks.
They were initially held at the “Agip,” a police detention centre located opposite the presidential palace. Subsequently, they were taken to the underground prison at the No. 5 police station, where they were beaten until they gave the passwords to their e-mail accounts. Since their release, they have been followed, their phones have been tapped, they have been forced to go back to work and they have been expressly forbidden to leave Asmara.
One of the journalists arrested in November, Ahmed “Bahja” Idris of Eri-TV’s Arabic-language service, was released and then re-arrested at the Sudanese border when he tried to leave the country at the end of December. He was initially held at an unknown location, and Reporters Without Borders feared for his safety as the Eritrean authorities are known for brutally mistreating people who try to flee the country. It seems, however, that he has since been released again.
Several sources told Reporters Without Borders that all these arrests could have been prompted by the recent defection of several prominent state media journalists, which particularly irked the government. They were probably arrested on suspicion of staying in contact with the defectors or planning to flee the country themselves, the sources said.