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Eritrea30 October 2008

State TV journalist secretly sentenced in 2006 to five years of forced labour

Daniel Kibrom, a journalist employed by Eritrea’s state-owned Eri TV, has been held since October 2006 in a prison camp in the south of the country, where he is serving a sentence of five years of forced labour for trying to cross the border into Ethiopia, Reporters Without Borders has learned from a former prison interrogator who fled the country a year ago.

“The intolerance and cruelty of the Eritrean authorities must not go unremarked,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Daniel Kibrom disappeared into the oblivion of a prison camp hell created by President Issaias Afeworki and his aides with the approval of acting information minister Ali Abdu, who often talks to the international press. We ask him to publicly tell the personnel under his responsibility and the foreign media what he knows about the fate of his ministry’s missing employees.”

Daniel, who worked for Eri TV’s Oromo-language service, was arrested by Eritrean border guards in a desert zone near the southern town of Senafe as he and three other people were trying to flee the country on foot. All four were taken to Ala Bazit, one of five prison camps in the so-called “Zone 3.”

One of the people who interrogated him, a member of a counter-espionage service, fled the country in September 2007 and met with Reporters Without Borders in Addis Ababa earlier this month. He said Daniel was “sentenced” to five years of forced labour by the military hierarchy and is still at the Ala Bazit prison camp, where he has to work in nearby fields or quarries and “sometimes on private farms owned by generals or by ruling party allies.”

Run by Commando Unit No. 525, Ala Bazit is located in the middle of a desert behind the Ala mountains, on the road between Dekemhare and Massawa. Occupying the site of a former military training camp built by the US military in 1996, it consists of three groups of huts with corrugated sheet metal roofs that are surrounded by large brambles and overseen by three watchtowers.

Three metal drums in the courtyard serve as latrines. Around 50 soldiers guard the 300 prisoners and interrogations are carried out by members of the “Third Operational Zone” counter-espionage section.

Barefoot and wearing beige overalls, the prisoners are fed a lentil soup twice a day. At night they are shut up in windowless cells four metres by four metres in size, with about 20 or 25 detainees to each cell, where they sleep crammed together on plastic sheets on the floor. As they are not let out of the cells at night, anyone needing to urinate must use one of the plastic recipients hanging from the ceiling on a piece string. Prisoners who die while at the camp are buried in the cemetery of a military hospital in a nearby locality.

The former prison interrogator told Reporters Without Borders that Ali Abdu, the acting information minister, was notified by telephone that Kibrom, one of his ministry’s employees, had been brought to the camp.

The Kibrom case means the number of verifiable cases of detained Eritrean journalists or information ministry employees now stands at 18. According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, at least four of the 10 journalists who were arrested in the course of a round-up of government critics in September 2001 died subsequently in Eiraeiro high-security prison camp in the north-east of the country. They include the famous co-founder of the weekly Setit, Fessehaye “Joshua” Yohannes.

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