Setit | Imprisoned in Eritrea | September 01, 2001

Job:Print reporter
Beats Covered:Politics
Local or Foreign:Local
Charge:No charge
Length of Sentence:Not Sentenced
Reported Health Problems:No

Tesfay was a freelance contributor to the independent weekly Setit, according to the newspaper's former editor Aaron Berhane. Local journalists who have gone into exile said authorities arrested Tesfay after a Setit piece published in August 2001 alleged that an interview published by the state-owned newspaper Haddas Ertra had been faked.

In the article, Tesfay said Yemane Gebreab, the head of political affairs for Eritrea's ruling party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, had fabricated an interview with the party's secretary, Alamin Mohamed Said, in which the secretary criticized calls for political reform by an opposition group of veterans of Eritrea's war of independence.

Tesfay, who had close ties to staff at Haddas Erta, claimed in a column that the interview was a fabrication, according to Eritrean journalists in exile, who said they believe the column was the reason behind his arrest.

The exact date of the arrest is unknown. Authorities have not disclosed Tesfay's whereabouts or any charges against him, and his state of health is unknown. Tesfay did not appear on CPJ's census of imprisoned journalists prior to 2014. His case only came to the organization's attention as part of a fresh investigation in 2014 into the status of long-held prisoners in Eritrea.

Amal Saleh, a U.K.-based Eritrean journalist, told CPJ in September 2017 that Tesfay is believed to have died in 2003 or 2004, according to sources who had connections to detention centers in Eritrea. CPJ was unable to independently confirm his death. At least one Eritrean journalist died in secret detention, and several others are reported to have perished in custody. CPJ continues to list the journalists on the prison census as a means of holding the government accountable for their fates.

When asked in a June 2016 interview with Radio France International about the status of journalists and politicians arrested in 2001, Eritrean Foreign Affairs Minister Osman Saleh said "all of them are alive" and they "are in good hands." Asked if they would face trial, Osman said they would, "when the government decides" since members of the group are "political prisoners."

A February 2016 decision by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights "strongly urged" Eritrea to release or provide a "speedy and fair trial" to journalists that have been detained since 2001. The Commission also asked the government to lift the ban on the press; grant detained journalists access to their families and lawyers; and pay them compensation.

In October 2017, CPJ wrote the Eritrean information ministry to ask about the conditions of all imprisoned journalists as well as the implementation of the Commission's decision. Paulos Netabay, director of the state-owed Eritrean News Agency, responded on behalf of the ministry. He said that he was not aware of the Commission's decision and that the body's rulings would not be valid until endorsed by the African Union Summit.

A November 2017 statement from Reporters without Border's Swedish Section, which is a petitioner in the case, said that the Eritrean government had yet to respond to letters inquiring into the progress of implementing the Commission's decision.

Paulos declined to comment on this specific case except to say he was a member of "the civil service" and "not a journalist." He said some details of journalists' health and location were "matters that concern the police or prison authorities." He did not answer additional emails from CPJ requesting referral to the appropriate authorities to respond to these questions. CPJ's attempts to reach these authorities independently were unsuccessful.

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