Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 07:35 GMT

Annual Prison Census 2008: Eritrea

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date 4 December 2008
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Annual Prison Census 2008: Eritrea, 4 December 2008, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
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, 2008


Zemenfes Haile, Tsigenay
IMPRISONED: January 1999

The founder and manager of the now-defunct private weekly Tsigenay, Haile was arrested on charges of failing to complete his national service. CPJ sources said he was released from prison in 2002 but was assigned to extended military service. Haile was last seen by friends and relatives in the Zara labor camp in Eritrea's lowland desert in 2000. Since then, sources believe he was moved to another location. Haile's continued deprivation of liberty was part of the government's crackdown on the press, which began in September 2001.

Ghebrehiwet Keleta, Tsigenay

Eyewitnesses said Keleta was seized by security agents while 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 trial in the days following September 18, 2001. The arrests took place less than a week after authorities effectively shut down the country's fledgling private press.

Authorities 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 Afwerki'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 whereabouts, legal status, or health. Several CPJ sources said most of the journalists were being held in 2008 in a secret prison camp called Eiraeiro, near thevillage of Gahtelay.

In at least three cases, it was not clear whether the journalists were still alive. Unconfirmed reports circulated online in 2006 saying that Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Medhanie Haile and Said Abdelkader had died in prison.

Among the group of 10 journalists, one death has been widely confirmed. Several CPJ sources said publisher and editor Fesshaye "Joshua" Yohannes, 47, died in a prison outside Asmara on January 11, 2007, after a long illness. Yohannes had received CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 2002.

The government has ignored or brushed off inquiries about the imprisonments. In a 2006 interview with CPJ, presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel denied that the journalists were imprisoned because of what they wrote, saying only that they "were involved in acts against the national interest of the state." He said that "the substance of the case is clear to everybody" but declined to detail any supporting evidence.

The case of Setit co-owner Isaac, an Eritrean with Swedish citizenship, has drawn considerable attention in Sweden, where diplomats, journalists, and grassroots activists have campaigned for his release. Isaac was briefly released for a medical checkup on November 19, 2005, and allowed to phone his family and a friend in Sweden. Despite hopes that he would be freed, Isaac was returned to jail two days later with no explanation, according to CPJ sources. In March 2007, Sweden's National Press Club awarded Isaac its Freedom of Expression and Press Prize.

Saleh Aljezeeri, Eritrean State Radio
Hamid Mohammed Said, Eri-TV
IMPRISONED: February 15, 2002

During a July 2002 fact-finding mission to the capital, Asmara, CPJ delegates confirmed that Eritrean authorities had arrested three state reporters in February 2002 as part of the government's mass crackdown on the press, which began in September 2001.

A reporter with the network's Arabic-language service, Saadia Ahmed, was eventually released in early 2005, according to CPJ sources. Eri-TV reporter Said and Eritrean State Radio reporter Aljezeeri remained imprisoned in an undisclosed location.

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