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Eritrea6 June 2007

Public radio journalist arrested as he tries to flee across border

Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today about the fate of Eyob Kessete, a journalist with the Amharic-language service of public radio station Dimtsi Hafash, who was arrested as he tried to flee across the border into Ethiopia and has since been held in the May Srwa detention centre, north of Asmara.

“The Eritrean government is not evolving, and those who do not toe the single party line continue to treated with extreme brutality,” the press freedom organisation said. “We cannot wait to see how the European Commission, President Issaias Afeworki’s supposed new strategic and economic partner, will react.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “The customary protests will show that this policy has failed. They will prove that Eritrea’s promises as regards press freedom and human rights are just smokescreens designed solely to take the pressure off the democratic governments that have dealings with Eritrea.”

Eyob Kessete was arrested by Eritrean border guards on an unknown date as he tried to enter Ethiopia, as many Eritreans do every year in an attempt to flee one of world’s most closed and repressive regimes. As an attempt to flee the country is generally regarded by the government as treason, Eyob was shut up in a metal container in May Srwa, which is located near the Adi Abeyto military camp on the road leading north out of the capital, Asmara.

Former detainees who have managed to flee Eritrea have told Reporters Without Borders that the conditions in this camp are terrible and detainees are tortured. No visits or contact with the outside world are allowed. As detainees are not held under any legal procedure, the length of their detention depends entirely on the government. Their families are afraid to ask for news of them for fear of reprisals. Relatives of people who managed to flee the country have been arrested and taken to Adi Abeyto. Others have been evicted from their homes.

The arrests of information ministry personnel that began last November have meanwhile continued. Ibrahim Abdella, a music archive employee at state-owned Eri-TV, and a news archive employee whose name is not known were arrested at their homes during the week of 12-16 March and taken off to an unknown place of detention. There has been no news of them since their arrest.

Around 10 journalists employed by state media were picked up in a wave of arrests that began on 12 November, following the defection of several leading journalists. It seems the authorities were very annoyed by the defections and arrested colleagues suspected of keeping in touch with the fugitives or intending to defect themselves. All except Daniel Musie of radio Dimtsi Hafash’s Oromo-language service were eventually released on bail but remain under surveillance in Asmara.

Eritrea is one of the very few countries in the world without any privately-owned media. The hundreds of political prisoners include at least 13 journalists who have been held without trial, incommunicado and in unknown locations, since September 2001. On the basis of the information it has obtained, Reporters Without Borders believes at least four of them have died in detention as a result of the appalling conditions in which they are held.

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