Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the fate of Johnny Hisabu, an editor with state-owned Eri-TV, who disappeared in late May after trying to flee across the border into Ethiopia. There are unconfirmed reports that he was arrested and has been held ever since in a detention centre in the southwestern town of Barentu.
“Forced to function as a cog in the official propaganda machine, Johnny was one of the hundreds of Eritreans who each month try to flee the hell on earth created by one of the world’s most authoritarian regimes,” the press freedom organisation said. “The regime’s only reaction to this exodus, which includes journalists and media technicians, is more cruelty and intolerance.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “It is time that President Issaias Afeworki, who portrays himself as a guarantor of national unity, realised that he has turned the country into a gigantic prison.”
Johnny has not been seen at his post in the information ministry-run team of TV editors since his departure in late May. It was around that time that Eyob Kessete, a journalist with the Amharic-language service of the public radio station Dimtsi Hafash, was arrested by border guards as he tried to cross into Ethiopia. Kessete has since been held in a prison in May Srwa, northwest of Asmara.
Johnny decided to flee to neighbouring Ethiopia in part because he is a member of the so-called “Amiche” community of Eritreans who were born or raised in Ethiopia prior to independence and because he therefore still has relatives there.
Attempts by Reporters Without Borders to locate him in the Eritrean refugee camps in Ethiopia have so far been unsuccessful. At the same time, there are unconfirmed reports that he was arrested when border guards intercepted the group of refugees he was travelling with, and that he has since been held at a detention centre in Barentu.
Reporters Without Borders has meanwhile learned that Eri-TV Arabic-language service presenter Fetiha Khaled (whose first name was previously given in error as Fathia), was transferred to a military camp near the Sudanese border following her arrest at the start of this year, and that her salary is now being paid by the defence ministry, suggesting that she was forcibly recruited into the army.
Fetiha was one of nine public media journalists arrested in a crackdown that began last November, 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.
This group included Paulos Kidane, a journalist with the Amharic-language service of Eri-TV and radio Dimtsi Hafash, who died in still unclear circumstances in June in an attempt to flee on foot across the border into Sudan.