- Press freedom organisations were shocked to know that the Eritrean government again has attacked journalists; this time by arresting at least nine reporters from state-owned media. All independent journalists have been held detained incomunicado in the harshest conditions since 2001, three of them presumedly dying in detention.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) today revealed that the Eritrean government has carried out a new round-up of journalists, in which at least nine employees of state-owned media outlets have been arrested since 12 November 2006 and are being "held at undisclosed locations in conditions that are probably extremely harsh."
"Terror reigns again among journalists in Eritrea," RSF said in a statement. "The government controls its people by means of lies, fear and violence, and does not tolerate anyone fleeing the country. We hope this wave of arrests will not be greeted with international indifference like the last time. The international community must intercede as a matter of urgency."
The press freedom group said it had learned from sources in Asmara that members of the security forces have been going to the Information Ministry every day since 12 November and, without giving any explanation, have been questioning employees of the public media, which are housed at the Information Ministry.
Asmara sources so far had been able to identify nine journalists abducted by state security, but believed there were more. This included five reporters from the state broadcaster 'Eri-TV', three journalists from the ruling (and only) party's 'Radio Dimtsi Hafash' (Voice of the Broad Masses) and one reporter from the state-owned press agency 'ENA'. All these media are considered government mouthpieces.
A local source said those arrested were taken to a detention centre at Agip - 5 kilometres south of the eastern town of Massawa - in an arid zone of salt production centres. An Eritrean journalist living in exile told RSF this round-up was probably ordered with the aim of "terrorising those journalists who have not yet fled the country."
The source in Eritrea said: "the government is on a state of maximum alert following the recent defection of a number of veteran journalists holding key posts within the Information Ministry." The detained journalists are accused of being the friends of, or being in contact with, the journalists who are now abroad, the source added. According to RSF, there are at least six cases since early October of Eritrean journalists defecting after fleeing the country or requesting asylum abroad.
The round-up of journalists in Eritrean state media comes shortly after defected reporters revealed the existance of the secret detention centre at Eiraeiro, where most of Eritrea's political prisoners are held in terrible conditions and subjected to torture. The journalists had also revealed that at least three of the twelve journalists abducted by state security in 2001 had died following torture at Eiraeiro.
The appalent human rights situation in Eritrea has been repeatedly criticised by the UN, the African Union (AU), former donor nations, exiled Eritreans, civil society groups and human rights and press freedom organisations, but to no avail. Even a ruling by the African Commission against Eritrea to try or free its political prisoners was completely ignored by the Asmara regime, which never has been elected.
To the contrary, the Eritrean Ministry of Information on its website last week signalled it would not be impressed by foreign criticism as it had a perfect media landscape. "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 claimed.
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