On the eve of the 16th anniversary of Eritrea’s independence tomorrow, Reporters Without Borders calls on the European Union to rethink its policy towards what is one of the world’s most repressive and impenetrable countries and, in particular, to adopt targeted sanctions against President Issaias Afeworki.
The press freedom organisation finds it incomprehensible that, for example, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Belarusian President Alexandre Lukashenko are banned from the EU but one of Africa’s most brutal dictators was recently received by the European Commission which, moreover, declared itself “very, very honoured” by his visit.
“Aside from reflecting a double standard, the EU’s new policy towards Eritrea is disastrous for those who are exposed to the government’s terror and the 13 journalists who disappeared into Eritrean detention centres in 2001,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is inconsistent and dangerous, giving President Issaias the chance to celebrate his victory, strengthen his grip and continue to renege on his promises with impunity.”
The press freedom organisation added: “Without questioning aid for the Eritrean population, we think the least that should be done is to no longer allow Eritrea’s president to come and strut about in Brussels.”
Officially independent since 24 May 1993, this small country in the Horn of Africa is one of the world’s very few nations with no privately-owned news media. Since 2001, Eritrea’s hundreds of political prisoners have included at least 13 journalists being held in undisclosed locations, without trial and without any contact with the outside world.
According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, at least four of them have died in detention as a result of the terrible condition in which they are being held. President Issaias is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “press freedom predators."
Louis Michel, the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, received Issaias in Brussels on 4 May, the day after World Press Freedom Day (photo). Claiming to be “very, very honoured to receive [him] at the commission,” Michel announced that Eritrea would receive 122 million euros in aid over five years, for “administrative capacity-building, infrastructures and food aid.”
The accord has a clause saying that in return, the European Union requests from the Eritrean government “a constructive approach to the crises in the region and progress on human rights and press freedom.”
At a joint press conference with Michel in Brussels, President Issaias contemptuously dismissed critical questions from journalists about human rights. In response to a question from Reporters Without Borders on the French TV station France 24, Michel defended his policy towards Eritrea, saying the fate of its imprisoned journalists was one of the questions systematically raised in bilateral meetings with Issaias, albeit in vain.
Michel added that the aid was part of a “global strategy for the Horn of Africa” and that there would be “no solution for any country in the region without a global solution.”