Eritrea government admits holding eight independent journalists incommunicado

The Committee to Protect Journalists has revealed that an Eritrean presidential spokesman admitted that the government had imprisoned eight independent journalists. The CPJ believes 13 are being held.

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By  David Cass Published  August 4, 2002

The Committee to Protect Journalists has revealed that an Eritrean presidential spokesman told them it had imprisoned eight independent journalists. The CPJ believes up to 13 are being held.

The admission was made last month by Yermane Gebremesken to three members of a CPJ fact-finding mission to the impoverished east African nation. The government acknowledgement comes more than 10 months after the authoritarian regime of President Isaias Afeworki shut down the country's private press and rounded up independent journalists in a sweeping crackdown on dissent.

Yermane refused to say where the journalists were being held. According to CPJ sources, a total of 13 journalists are currently held. Ten were arrested in September, 2001, and three were detained in February. Until March 31, all 13 journalists were confined at Police Station One in the capital, Asmara. At that time, they began a hunger strike to protest their imprisonment. Security forces then transferred nine of the hunger strikers to undisclosed detention facilities, and their families have since been denied any contact with them.

CPJ's sources have reported that one of the hunger strikers, Swedish national Dawit Isaac, was sent to a hospital where he was treated for post traumatic stress, a result of alleged torture while in police custody.

The presidential spokesperson, would not guarantee whether all of the detained journalists were alive. Nor would he comment on their condition, beyond stating that they were not being mistreated.

"We arrived in Asmara during a new wave of military roundups of young men and women for national service, and based on what we witnessed, it is hard to believe that the jailed journalists are being treated any more decently than others," said Josh Friedman, a CPJ board member, who, along with CPJ's Washington, DC, representative Frank Smyth and CPJ Africa program coordinator Yves Sorokobi, was part of the mission.

The journalists held include chief editors of private newspapers and former senior executives of the national television and radio services.

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