- The 'Voice of America' (VOA) correspondent in Eritrea, Aklilu Solomon, has been released after almost 18 months in jail. Another 16 Eritrean journalists however remain in secret prisons in the country, most of them having been detained since September 2001.
Mr Solomon allegedly was freed from his secret jail already on 31 December, according to information gathered by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Information about his release had not reached the outside world before last week.
The VOA correspondent was reported to be "in poor health" after his release. Unnamed CPJ sources had said Mr Solomon was "held incommunicado in a metal shipping container at Adi Abeto Prison," near the capital, Asmara. He was held there for 18 months without charge.
Mr Solomon was arrested in July 2003, after the VOA broadcast his report about the grief of families of soldiers killed in the war with Ethiopia. His story contradicted state media reports that families had celebrated the conscripts' martyrdom. Authorities claimed that Mr Solomon had been taken to complete his military service, although the VOA said he had documents to show he has a medical exemption.
His release is now celebrated as a first possible step to free the many other journalists jailed in Eritrea. "We welcome the release of our colleague Aklilu Solomon but deplore the fact that he was detained in the first place," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a press release.
- We remain deeply concerned about the many journalists who are still jailed, without charge and reportedly in appalling conditions, Ms Cooper however added. "CPJ calls on the Eritrean government to release all the jailed journalists immediately and unconditionally."
Sixteen journalists remain imprisoned, according to CPJ research. Many of them have been detained since September 2001, when the government launched a brutal crackdown, shuttering all independent media and jailing critics, including journalists. The Asmara government has refused to reveal the whereabouts or status of the journalists, and information about their conditions is very hard to obtain.
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