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Eritrea remains Africa’s largest jailor of journalists - CPJ


By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

December 10, 2010 (ADDIS ABABA) – With at least 17 journalists behind bars, Eritrea imprison journalists the most journalists in Africa and the third most in the world according to international press freedom watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The US based organization’s annual census says that as of December 1 at least 23 journalists were detained in prisons in Sub-Saharan Africa, because of their journalism. From these, four out of five have been held in incommunicado in secret detention centers without charge or trial for several years.

“Secret detention centers in the reclusive Red Sea nation held the most journalists in Africa, an unbroken record for Eritrea since 2001 following the government’s brutal shutdown of the private press and the arrests of 10 editors”, CPJ said.

Eritrea’s neighbor, Ethiopia is ranked second in the list among African nations, followed by Gambia. Four journalists were held in Ethiopian prison as of December 1.

In October CPJ recognized the work of Dawit Kebede, an Ethiopian journalist and, founder of Ethiopia’s Awramba Times newspaper, who faced two years of jail terms following an independent reporting on Ethiopia’s 2005 election violence.

He was among four international journalists who won CPJ’s 2010 International Press Freedom Award in honor of covering the news in the face of threats, harassment and arrest.

“Eritrea, Ethiopia and The Gambia are leaders among the few African nations accustomed to detaining members of the press incommunicado without charge or trial,” said Mohamed Keita, CPJ Africa advocacy coordinator.

“Without formal charges to fight or a trial in sight, prospects are grim for these journalists to gain freedom and for others to defy the chilling effect such imprisonments have.”

There has been no immediate comment from the governments of the east African nations on to the reports.

Elsewhere, countries like Iran and China were on the top list of nations worldwide who have imprisoned journalists without charge.

With 34 imprisoned journalists apiece, China and Iran are responsible for nearly half of the worldwide total. Eritrea with 17, Burma with 13, and Uzbekistan with six, round out the five worst jailers from among the 28 nations that imprison journalists. At least 64 freelance journalists were behind bars worldwide, a figure consistent with the 2009 census.

The new report said “China’s brutal suppression of ethnic journalism and Iran’s sustained crackdown on critical voices have pushed the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide to its highest level since 1996’’.

Globally, journalists are most commonly held on anti-state charges (72 cases) or even no charge at all (34 cases). Both China and Iran rely heavily on the use of vague anti-state charges. But CPJ found that the abusive application of anti-state charges—such as treason, subversion, or acting against national interests—occurs worldwide and constitutes the single greatest cause of journalist imprisonments.

CPJ said the annual census is a snapshot of those incarcerated at midnight on December 1, 2010. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year.

Journalists who either disappear or are abducted by non-state entities such as criminal gangs or militant groups are not included on the prison census. The group said their cases are classified as “missing” or “abducted.”


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