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Eritrea15 July 2003

Voice of America correspondent arrested

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest and conscription into the Eritrean army of the local correspondent of the radio station Voice of America (VOA) and called for the immediate release of him and 18 other jailed media workers in the country, which it said was "Africa’s biggest prison for journalists."

The journalist, Akhilu Solomon, 32, was arrested at his home on 8 July and taken to an army camp to do his compulsory military service. However, VOA said he had already done part of it and been exempted from the rest on medical grounds.

"After persecuting the local media, the government is now going after those working for foreign media," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "The latest arrest means 19 journalists are now in prison, making Eritrea by far the most repressive country in Africa in this respect."

The government shut down all privately-owned newspapers in September 2001 and arrested several journalists, leaving only the official press operating. Three foreign media - the BBC, Agence France-Presse and Deutsche Welle - have stringers in the country. The US embassy in Asmara said it had contacted the government about Solomon’s arrest.

All Eritreans over 18 have been obliged since 1994 to do 18 months military service, including six months training at a military camp in the western town of Sawa.

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