Ameriques Asie Europe Moyen-Orient Internet Nations unies
Eritrea17 September 2008

European Union urged to shake off lethargy after seven years of silence since September 2001 crackdown

On the eve of the seventh anniversary of the start of a wave of round-ups on 18 September 2001, Reporters Without Borders appeals to each of the European Union’s 27 members to publicly endorse the organisation’s call for the most senior members of the Eritrean government and military to be declared personae non gratae.

“As a result of indifference or weakness, Europe’s diplomats still do not seem to have appreciated the impact this initiative could have,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Without threatening the aid that is vital for the Eritrean population, it would severe the government’s key link with the large diaspora in Europe and would protect political refugees from the surveillance and threats to which they are exposed.”

The organisation added : “It would also send a strong signal to the civilian and military leaders in Asmara that the criminal silence surrounding the political prisoners, including the dozen or so journalists held incommunicado since September 2001, is no longer acceptable.”

Unlike Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Belarusian President Alexander Lukachenko and others, Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki, his cabinet ministers and senior military officers are free to travel anywhere in the European Union. A visa ban can only be decided by the European Council. Until now, none of the EU’s 27 member countries has agreed to ask the EU presidency to put it on the agenda.

On 18 September 2001, President Issaias and his hardline allies in the armed forces and the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, the country’s only political party, ordered the arrests of some 15 leading personalities who had publicly called for democratic reforms. Around a dozen journalists whose publications had reported their appeal were also thrown in prison.

The least expression of criticism or the least suspicion has since then resulted in indefinite imprisonment in one of the many detention centres scattered around the country.

None of the detainees is allowed to have contact with their family or a lawyer. Publicly accused on several occasions of being “threats to national security,” they have never been tried and never been able to defend themselves. At least four of the journalists have died in detention, probably in the Eiraeiro high-security camp in the northeast of the country.

Reporters Without Borders will participate in a public hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels tomorrow about the strategy the EU should adopt towards the human rights crisis in Eritrea.

In this country
6 March - Eritrea
Plea to EU to suspend development aid in light of fresh crackdown on journalists
30 October - Eritrea
State TV journalist secretly sentenced in 2006 to five years of forced labour
24 April - Eritrea
Journalist employed by state-owned Radio Dimtsi Hafash held since 2006
30 January - Eritrea
New revelations about Eiraeiro prison camp - “The journalist Seyoum Tsehaye is in cell No. 10 of block A01”
6 December - Eritrea
On eve of meeting with African leaders, EU urged to declare Eritrean president and aides persona non grata

in the annual report
Eritrea - Annual Report 2008
Eritrea - Annual Report 2007
Eritrea - Annual report 2006

Africa press releases
3 June - Somalia
Alarm at TV station director’s abduction near Mogadishu
27 May - Gabon
Government imposes news blackout on President Bongo’s health
26 May - Somalia
Radio reporter shot by militia dies of injuries, fourth journalist to be killed this year

africa archives

18 March 2009 - Democratic Republic of Congo
“Bukavu, murder city”: investigation report into murders of journalists in the capital of Sud-Kivu
21 May 2008 - Eritrea
Naizghi Kiflu, the dictatorship’s eminence grise
6 March 2008 - Kenya
"How far to go ?" Kenya’s media caught in the turmoil of a failed election

Sign the petitions
Sign the petition for the release of ten Eritrean journalists