afrol News, 15 November - A growing numbers of reports are indicating that three out of 13 journalists jailed in 2001 have been killed while in a detention centre at Eiraeiro, in the remote north-eastern desert of Eritrea. Meanwhile, the Eritrean government indicates it will be even less sensitive to Western and African complaints over a total lack of press freedom.
The report on Eiraeiro was posted on the Internet in August and has since then been investigated by the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). It contains precise and verifiable information about the exact location of the detention centre, where at least 62 political prisoners were said to be held, including former ministers, other senior officials, high-ranking military officers, government opponents and eight of the 13 journalists held since a round-up in September 2001.
Initially published in Tigrinya language on 17 August on aigaforum.com, an Ethiopian website, it was translated into English and posted on 31 August on awate.com, an Eritrean opposition site that is edited in the United States. RSF today said it knows the sources for the information in the report, although it "will not identify them for security reasons, and believes them to be credible and serious."
The Eiraeiro detention centre is said to have been built in 2003. An Eritrean journalist in exile told RSF that it is "one of the country's hottest areas." To get to Eiraeiro, you reportedly have to walk for two hours from the nearest road. Consisting of 62 cells measuring 3 metres by 3 metres, it is said to contain the political prisoners who were previously held in Embatkala, in the east of the country.
Several sources have confirmed the existence of the Eiraeiro detention centre and that most of Eritrea's prominent journalists and political prisoners are held there. Witnesses also confirm that many of the journalists have been tortured in the most brutal way. Fessahaye "Joshua" Yohannes, a playwright and journalist with the newspaper 'Setit', was even said to have had "his finger-nails ripped out."
The report says at least nine of the detainees at Eiraeiro have died as a result of "various illnesses, psychological pressure or suicide." They include three journalists - Yusuf Mohamed Ali, who reportedly died on 13 June, Medhane Haile, who reportedly died in February, and Said Abdulkader, who reportedly died in March 2005.
They are all part of a group of 13 journalists who were rounded up by the police during the week of 18 to 25 September 2001 after the government decided to "suspend" all of Eritrea's privately-owned media and ordered the arrest of everyone considered to a member of the opposition.
RSF - which only last month rated Eritrea the third-worst country in the world for press freedom - for over a month has urged Eritrean authorities to answer the claims made in the report, without any result. "This silence on the part of the Eritrean authorities is inhumane and intolerable," the media watchdog said, adding that "no foreign government should continue to have any dealings with President Issayas Afewerki and his government without insisting on serious, documented explanations."
RSF and foreign governments that earlier have complained on the extreme human rights abuses in Eritrea - which include the African Union, former European donors and the Us - are not likely to get an answer. The Eritrean Ministry of Information already on Monday published its views on press freedom and the Western press.
"The Eritrean media system can be taken as an exemplary model as far as developing credible, dignified, free, and responsible media outlets is concerned," the Ministry said in an editorial posted on its website. Western media were criticised for "lacking a sense of self-esteem, ethics, and professionalism," a phrasing the Ministry often has used when reacting to afrol News reports about Eritrea.
The government criticism of Western media comes after intensive and costly efforts trying to influence foreign reporting about Eritrea. Asmara authorities had tried to get rid of critical reports by expelling all foreign correspondents and carefully filtering information, sent out to leading media from Asmara and the Washington Embassy in a great effort.
Foreign journalists however were not impressed by the Soviet-style statements from the Ministry of Information and its Washington Embassy, increasingly using alternative sources sceptical of the Asmara government. Using a large network of sponsored government-friendly Eritreans abroad, the Ministry thus tried to influence media by writing flows of complaint letters to editors from "ordinary citizens". afrol News is aware that this has been a costly affair for the impoverished state.
There are signs that this costly policy now may be given up. In a new move, the Asmara regime is now distancing itself altogether from Western countries, attacking values such as press freedom or human rights as unsuitable for Eritrea.
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