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article imageOp-Ed: Silencing the journalist — The reality of Eritrea

By KJ Mullins     Sep 18, 2011 in World
Image if tomorrow you went out to buy your favorite newspaper and it wasn't there, only newspapers that were put out by the government. On September 18, 2001 that was the reality in Eritrea.
In 2001 there were seven privately run print news media organizations. They were all shut down ten years ago.
If you question the government about this stoppage of the free press the story will be that the journalists all decided to work for the national service or that those who didn't were criminals who did not comply with media licensing laws.
President Afewerki said in a 2004 interview that the only independent journalists that had been in his nation were actually members of the CIA.
The journalists that were arrested in the closing down of private media are still facing possible torture behind bars. In September 2009 Reporters Without Borders reported that their comrades were being housed in underground cells or metal containers in Adi Abeito military prison (northwest of Asmara), Eiraeiro prison (near the locality of Gahtelay) and in the Dahlak archipelago.
At least four of those detained died as prisoners. Their families have been denied their bodies.
On September 23, 2001 several reporters were round up and detained. They have remained silenced either through death in prison or locked behind bars since that time.
Medhanie Haile was just 33 years old when he was arrested. He had a law degree and was the deputy editor of Keste-Debena. It is believed that he survived until 2004 in prison where he perished due to lack of medical treatment.
Yusuf Mohamed Ali didn't let bad eyesight stop him from reporting the truth in his nation until he was detained. He died on June 13, 2003 from excessive heat. He was in his 40s and the father of three.
It is said that Said Abdulkader killed himself at the Eiraeiro detention center in March 2004. He was in his 30s.
Fessehaye Yohannes, "Joshua", was a co-owner of Setit. A well known poet he won the CPJ's International Press Freedom Award. A married father of three its unclear if he died by suicide in 2003 or from medical maltreatment in January 2007.
The director of Eri-TV, Seyoum Tsehaye was nearing 50 when he was arrested. In 2007 he was awarded the Reporters Without Borders – Foundation De France Press Freedom Prize for his work on the struggle for his nation's independence. His wife and two children live in France where they have asylum.
Dawit Habtemichael was a cofounder of Mekalih when he was detained. His main income was from teaching physics. His sister, Sara is now in exile living in Toronto, Canada.
Amanuel Asrat contributed to Setit prior to becoming the editor of the weekly Zemen. He is said to still be alive but is in poor health.
Respected contributor to Setit, Mattewos Habteab was the cofounder of Mekalih and served as its editor-in-chief.
Sports reporter Temesghen Gebreyesus worked for Keste-Debena. He is the father on a son.
Along with Joshua, Dawit Issac, 38 at the time of his arrest, was a co-owner of Setit. He has dual citizenship in Eritrea and Sweden. His three children and wife have not seen him but he's said to be in poor health in a windowless cell. Much of Issac's family live in Sweden.
Issac has yet to have a legal hearing, ten years after his arrest. He lives a life of terror. With no access to fresh water he suffers psychological torture and during the summer months excessive heat.
In August 2010 Yemani Gebreab, a senior adviser to President Afeworki, said that Isaac was being held for “very serious crimes regarding Eritrea’s national security and survival as an independent state.” He refused to state if Issac was dead or alive.
Without reporters on the ground citizens remain silenced about the conditions and violations that they are facing.
In the West it is hard to fathom journalists being arrested and held with no charges for a decade. Our media has freedom to report the truth with no fear of the government detaining them for such reports.
Sign calling for the release of Dawit Issac
Sign calling for the release of Dawit Issac
Journalists would rise up and make sure that their stories were told and yet in the Horn of Africa men sit in tiny cells, alone without a chance to see freedom, and few are shouting about it.
Freedom of the press and freedom of speech allows for a civilization to prosper. Without those freedoms human rights are forgotten.
In Eritrea the government has won, these men have mostly been forgotten, but the battle can not be over. A decade ago freedom was lost. It's time to get the story out.
This is the second in a series of reports. During the next seven days reports will continue on the conditions of the nation of Eritrea and what journalists in that nation are facing. All research material has been provided privately by a member of PEN Canada.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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