Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 13:11 GMT

Annual Prison Census 2010 - Eritrea

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 8 December 2010
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2010 - Eritrea, 8 December 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d4977e8c.html [accessed 17 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Journalists in prison as of December 1, 2010

Eritrea: 17

Ghebrehiwet Keleta, Tsigenay
Imprisoned: July 2000

Security agents arrested Keleta, a reporter for the private weekly Tsigenay, while he was on his way to work in July 2000. He has not been heard from since. Sources told CPJ at the time that the reporter was being held in connection with the government's overall crackdown on the press.

Said Abdelkader, Admas
Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Tsigenay
Amanuel Asrat, Zemen
Temesken Ghebreyesus, Keste Debena
Mattewos Habteab, Meqaleh
Dawit Habtemichael, Meqaleh
Medhanie Haile, Keste Debena
Dawit Isaac, Setit
Seyoum Tsehaye, freelance
Imprisoned: September 2001

Eritrean security forces jailed at least 10 local journalists without charge or trial in the days after September 18, 2001. The arrests took place less than a week after authorities effectively shut down the country's fledgling private press.

Authorities vaguely accused the journalists of avoiding the country's compulsory military service, threatening national security, and failing to observe licensing requirements. CPJ research indicates that the crackdown was part of a government drive to crush political dissent ahead of elections scheduled for December 2001, which were subsequently canceled. The private press had reported on divisions within the ruling party, the Eritrean People's Defense Force, and had criticized the increasingly authoritarian nature of President Isaias Afewerki's regime.

The journalists were initially held incommunicado at a police station in Asmara, where they began a hunger strike on March 31, 2002, and smuggled a message out of jail demanding due process. The government responded by transferring them to secret locations and has since refused to divulge their health, whereabouts, or legal status. No charges, court proceedings, or convictions have ever been publicly disclosed.

"I don't know them at all," presidential spokesman Yemane Ghebremeskel said in an October 2010 response to CPJ inquiries seeking basic information on the detainees. Several CPJ sources said that most of the journalists were being held in a secret prison camp called Eiraeiro, near the village of Gahtelay.

CPJ has confirmed that one of the 10 journalists initially arrested has died. Publisher and editor Fesshaye "Joshua" Yohannes, 47, a 2002 recipient of CPJ's International Press Freedom Award, died in custody on an unknown date, several sources confirmed to CPJ in early 2007.

At least two reports have said that other journalists also died in custody. In April 2010, the Ethiopian station Radio Wegahta broadcast an interview with Eyob Bahta Habtemariam, an Eritrean defector described as a former supervisory guard at two prisons northeast of Asmara. Habtemariam claimed that extreme heat had taken the life of Tsigenay editor Ali in 2003, while Keste Debena editor Haile had died from unspecified maltreatment in 2004. He said Admas editor Abdelkader had taken his own life in 2003, and that Meqaleh editor Habteab had also died of maltreatment in 2006.

Emmanuel Hadgo, a spokesman for the Eritrean Information Ministry, told CPJ that Habtemariam had never worked for the government and that the statements were untrue. He did not respond directly to the question of whether the journalists were alive.

An unbylined 2006 report published on several websites, including Aigaforum, a site considered close to the Ethiopian government, noted the deaths of three detained journalists. The report cited the deaths of "Mr. Yusuf," believed by CPJ sources to refer to Yusuf Mohamed Ali of Tsigenay; "Mr. Medhane Tewelde," believed to refer to Medhanie Haile of Keste Debena; and "Mr. Said," believed to refer to Said Abdelkader of Admas. Although details of the report could not be independently corroborated, CPJ sources considered it to be generally credible.

CPJ continues to seek corroboration of the reported deaths. It lists the four journalists on the 2010 prison census as a means of holding the government responsible for their fates.

The case of Setit co-owner Isaac, an Eritrean with Swedish citizenship, has drawn considerable attention in Sweden, where diplomats, journalists, and grassroots activists campaigned for his release. Isaac was briefly released on November 19, 2005, and allowed to phone his family and a friend in Sweden, but was returned to jail two days later with no explanation.

Asked about Isaac's "crime" in a 2009 interview with Swedish freelance journalist Donald Boström, Afewerki replied, "I don't know." He added: "I don't even care where he is or what he is doing. He did a big mistake." In October, Isaac was honored with the World Association of Newspapers' Golden Pen of Freedom.

Hamid Mohammed Said, Eri-TV
Imprisoned: February 15, 2002

During a July 2002 fact-finding mission to the capital, Asmara, a CPJ delegation confirmed that Eritrean authorities had arrested three state media reporters in February 2002 as part of the government's mass crackdown on the press, which began in September 2001. Reporters Saadia Ahmed and Saleh Aljezeeri were released, according to CPJ sources.

Eri-TV reporter Said was believed still being held in an undisclosed location, sources told CPJ. The government has ignored numerous inquiries from CPJ and other organizations seeking information about the journalist's whereabouts, health, and legal status.

Bereket Misguina, Radio Bana
Mulubruhan Weldegebriel, Radio Bana
Ghirmai Abraham, Radio Bana
Issak Abraham, Radio Bana
Meles Nguse, Radio Bana
Yirgalem Fesseha, Radio Bana
Imprisoned: January and February 2009

Eritrean security forces arrested six government journalists as part of a crackdown on staffers connected to Radio Bana, an Education Ministry-sponsored station in Asmara, according to several CPJ sources. Authorities ordered the arrests based on suspicions that the journalists and other staffers had provided information to foreign-based Eritrean opposition organizations and news websites, according to the sources. The detainees were being held in Mai Srwa and Adi Abieto military camps.

The journalists had worked for other state media. Ghirmai Abraham had been producer of an arts program, and Issak Abraham had produced a Sunday entertainment show on state Radio Dimtsi Hafash. Misguina (also a film director and scriptwriter), Nguse (also a poet), and Fesseha (a poet as well) were columnists for the state-run daily Hadas Eritrea. Weldegebriel was the author of a column on celebrities for Hadas Eritrea.

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