Reporters Without Borders called today on the international community to take sanctions against the rulers of Eritrea to force them to lift their year-old ban on all privately-owned media and to free 18 jailed journalists.
"It is unacceptable that, with complete impunity, a government can deprive a whole people of their right to be informed," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard.
"We especially urge the United Nations and the European Union to take action and we appeal to the Eritrean authorities, notably President Issaias Afeworki, to allow all privately-owned media to operate again."
All non-government media were shut down on 18 September last year and 18 journalists have since been arrested. A year later, their whereabouts are unknown and they have not been tried. Other journalists fled abroad to Europe, North America and elsewhere in Africa.
Eritrea is the only country in Africa and one of the few in the world with no privately-owned media. Only the government media, tightly controlled by the regime, are permitted. The few resident foreign correspondents have left the country because they could no longer operate freely and in complete safety.
The country’s privately-owned newspapers announced on 18 September last year that they were publishing their last issues until further notice after getting government orders to shut down. The head of state television said on the air that the privately-owned media had "had time to fix their erring ways" and were "putting the unity of the country in danger."
At least 10 journalists were arrested and taken to the main police station in Asmara, the capital. They were Yusuf Mohamed Ali, editor of Tsigenay, who had been jailed for several weeks in October 2000; Mattewos Habteab, editor of Meqaleh, arrested several times in 2000 and 2001; Dawit Habtemichael, his deputy; Medhanie Haile (deputy editor) and Temesgen Gebreyesus (board member) of Keste Debena; Emanuel Asrat, editor of Zemen; Dawit Isaac and Fessehaye Yohannes, of the newspaper Setit; Said Abdulkader, of the magazine Admas, and a freelance photographer, Seyoum Tsehaye.
Since then, four other journalists have been arrested: Simret Seyoum, managing editor of Setit, Hamid Mohamed Said and Saidia, of the government TV station Eri-TV and Saleh al-Jezaeeri, of the government radio station Voice of the Broad Masses.
Four more journalists are missing: Zemenfes Haile, former founder-manager of Tsigenay, may have been held in a desert camp since 1999; Ghebrehiwet Keleta, also with Tsigenay, was reportedly arrested in July 2000. Selamyinghes Beyene, of Meqaleh, and Binyam Haile, of Haddas Eritrea, is believed to have been arrested in autumn 2001.