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Eritrea6 July 2007

Journalist, one of nine arrested last November, dies in attempt to flee to Sudan

Reporters Without Borders voiced deep sadness today on learning that Paulos Kidane, a journalist with the Amharic-language service of state-owned Eri-TV and radio Dimtsi Hafash (Voice of the Broad Masses) died last month in an attempt to flee on foot across the border into Sudan.

“We join in the mourning of his family and friends and share their grief in this tragic ordeal,” the press freedom organisation said. “The information ministry’s lies will not be able to hide the fact that Kidane was one of the many victims of a cruel and tyrannical regime. A hitherto apathetic international community should react with outrage and hold President Issaias Afeworki accountable.”

Paulos set off on foot for the border in the company of seven other Eritreans at the start of June. Exhausted after six days of walking and affected by the epilepsy he suffered from, he had to stop a few kilometres short of the border and let his companions go on without him. They left him in a village, hoping he would subsequently recover enough strength to resume the trek.

There was no news about what had happened to him for several weeks, until the Eritrean information ministry informed his family and state media personnel at the end of June of his “accidental death.”

Reporters Without Borders has the details of the overland trek undertaken by Paulos and his companions, including the date of their departure, the date the rest of the group crossed the border and their exact route, but it has decided not to reveal them to avoid putting anyone in danger.

Paulos was one of nine public media journalists arrested in a crackdown beginning on 12 November 2006, after the defection of several prominent journalists. They were held on suspicion of staying in contact with the defectors or planning to flee the country themselves.

After his release a month later, Paulos told Reporters Without Borders: “We were beaten and tortured in prison for refusing to give the passwords to our e-mail accounts. In the end we cracked because the pain was too much.”

Paulos said they were initially taken to “Agip,” a police detention centre located near the presidential palace. They were later held in an underground prison beneath the No. 5 police station. After being released on bail, they were followed, their phones were tapped, they were forced to go back to work and they were expressly forbidden to leave Asmara.

“The government clearly told us that we would be back in prison if we did not return to work in the course of the coming week, even if our salary for the month we spend in their custody was never paid,” Paulos added.

Before the government eliminated the privately-owned media in September 2001, Paulos Kidane was the sports editor of the weekly Admas and wrote for the weekly Keste Debena. He was one of the country’s most popular sports journalists and covered European and world football cup tournaments. As he had been born in Ethiopia, he joined the public media’s Amharic-language service after 2001. One of his friends described him as “a humble man, not overly ambitious, known for his jokes and his loud laugh."

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