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Eritrea: Three journalists held since 2001 die in Eiraeiro prison camp

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ALERT / PRESS RELEASE

30th August 2012

ERITREA

Three journalists held since 2001 die in Eiraeiro prison camp

After several weeks of investigating reports from sources in Eritrea and from prison guards who fled the country, Reporters Without Borders has been able to confirm that three more journalists – Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab and Wedi Itay – have died in the northeastern prison camp of Eiraeiro. All three had been held since late 2001.

Another journalist arrested in February 2009, whose identity has not been established with certainty, has also reportedly died in detention – in his case, in Abi Abeito military prison near the capital, Asmara.

The only good news is that Tesfalidet "Topo" Mebrahtu, a well-known sports journalist who worked for state-owned radio Dimtsi Hafash and state-owned Eri-TV, was "released on bond" (he is still under surveillance, with relatives acting as guarantors) in early 2012 after being held for 10 months.

"While all eyes are turned on Syria, another, less visible, tragedy is being played out in Eritrea, a country forgotten by the international community although it is the world’s leading media freedom violator and Africa’s biggest prison for journalists " Reporters Without Borders said.

"In Eritrea, journalists have been thrown in prison just for daring to express their opinions. Some have been held for more than 10 years and are disappearing one by one. Located in the northeast of the country, Eiraeiro is not a prison, it is a death camp."

Reporters Without Borders first revealed details about conditions at Eiraeiro in January 2008 (http://en.rsf.org/eritrea-new-revelations-about-eiraeiro-30-01-2008,33372.html), after meeting a former camp guard. Further details were provided in 2010, on the basis of statements made by another former guard, Eyob Bahta, shortly after he fled to Ethiopia. What follows is based on new eyewitness accounts from this death camp.

I - Three more of the journalists held since 2001 die in detention

Dawit Habtemichael

Arrested on 21 September 2001 after hiding for three days in the school where he taught physics, Habtemichael was the deputy editor and co-founder of the biweekly Meqaleh. Aged 30 at the time of his arrest, he was one of the youngest of the Eritrean journalists to be detained. After his mental health began to deteriorate in 2007, he became schizophrenic and finally lost all contact with reality in 2010. The failure to treat his steadily worsening mental condition is thought to have been the cause of his death in the second half of 2010. He was prisoner No. 12 at Eiraeiro.

Mattewos Habteab

Meqaleh co-founder and editor Mattewos Habteab and another journalist, Temesgen Gebreyesus, were transferred to a prison in the Dahlak Archipelago in late 2008 but were subsequently brought back to the mainland, to Eiraeiro, and it was there that Habteab finally succumbed to the camp’s appalling conditions.

Sahle Tsegazab, aka Wedi Itay

Better known by the pen-name of Wedi Itay, Sahle Tsegazab was a freelance journalist and writer who often worked for privately-owned newspapers such as Keste Debena as well as the pro-government daily Hadas Eritrea. Arrested in October 2001, he died at Eiraeiro from an identified illness and from the lack of medical treatment.

It was previously established that four of the other journalists arrested around the same time in 2001 – Medhanie Haile, Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Said Abdulkader and Fessehaye "Joshua" Yohannes – died in detention.

As a result, only four members of the group of journalists arrested in September/October 2001 – Dawit Isaac, Seyoum Tsehaye, Amanuel Asrat and Temesgen Gebreyesus – are still alive.

II - Torture and mistreatment of state media journalists held since 2009

Former prison guard Berhane Afro fled the country earlier this year and is seeking asylum in Israel. He was a guard at Adi Abeito military prison, where most of the journalists arrested at Radio Bana and other state media in February 2009 are being held.

He said information minister Ali Abdu and one of his employees, identified only as Asmelash, went to Adi Abeito recently to talk to the prison’s governor, Wedi Welela. He also reported that journalists held at Adi Abeito are subjected to various forms of torture and mistreatment including electric shock, beatings and solitary confinement. Food is sometimes withheld and they are denied medical care.

A journalist identified only by the given name of Bereket reportedly died as a result of these appalling conditions. It is believed that this journalist is Bereket Misghina, but Reporters Without Borders cannot confirm this with complete certainty.

All the journalists arrested in 2009 are accused of collaborating with western NGOs and government and with exile opposition groups. They are allowed no visits. Some, such as the journalist, writer and translator Mulubrahan Habtegebriel and the young journalist and poet Meles Negusse, are still being held at Adi Abeito. Others have been moved to other detention centres. They include Eri-TV journalist Isaac Abraham, who has been transferred to May Srwa.

Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu, a woman journalist who was arrested in February 2009 (http://en.rsf.org/erythree-detained-eritrean-journalist-06-04-2012,42276.html), is reportedly still in an Asmara hospital.


Version française

ERYTHREE
Emprisonnés depuis 2001, trois journalistes sont morts au camp d’Eiraeiro

Après plusieurs semaines d’enquête pour confirmer des informations provenant de sources en Erythrée et de gardes de prison ayant fui le pays, Reporters sans frontières est en mesure d’affirmer que trois nouveaux journalistes – Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab et Wedi Itay –, tous arrêtés à la fin de l’année 2001, sont morts dans le camp pénitentiaire d’Eiraeiro (Nord-Est).

Un autre journaliste, arrêté en février 2009 mais dont l’identité n’a pas pu être déterminée avec certitude, serait également mort en détention, dans la prison militaire d’Adi Abeito, près de la capitale Asmara. Seule "bonne nouvelle", le célèbre journaliste sportif pour la radio publique Dimtsi Hafash et la chaîne publique Eri-TV, Tesfalidet Mebrahtu, alias "Topo", a été relâché sous caution début 2012, après dix mois de détention.

"Alors que tous les regards sont braqués sur la Syrie, un autre drame se joue, moins visible et dans un Etat oublié de la communauté internationale, l’Erythrée. Dans ce pays, le pire au monde pour la liberté de la presse et la plus grande prison d’Afrique pour les professionnels des médias, des journalistes ont été jetés en prison, certains depuis plus de dix ans, simplement pour avoir osé s’exprimer. Un par un, ils disparaissent. Au nord-est de la capitale Asmara, Eiraeiro n’est pas une prison, c’est un camp de la mort", a déclaré Reporters sans frontières.

En janvier 2008, l’organisation avait publié de premières révélations sur les conditions de détention dans le camp d’Eiraeiro (http://fr.rsf.org/erythree-le-journaliste-seyoum-tsehaye-se-30-01-2008,25249.html) après avoir rencontré un ancien garde. En 2010, les confessions d’un autre garde, Eyob Bahta, lequel venait de fuir vers l’Ethiopie, avaient permis d’obtenir de nouvelles informations. Le rapport qui suit est le fruit de nouveaux témoignages sur ce camp de la mort.

I - Trois nouveaux morts parmi les journalistes emprisonnés depuis 2001

Dawit Habtemichael

Agé de trente ans lors de son arrestation, le 21 septembre 2001, après trois jours passés à se cacher dans le lycée où il enseignait la physique, le rédacteur en chef adjoint et cofondateur du bihebdomadaire Meqaleh était à l’époque le plus jeune parmi les journalistes érythréens envoyés en prison. A partir de 2007, sa santé mentale est affectée, il devient schizophrène. En 2010, il perd la raison. Malgré la sévère détérioration de son état de santé, Dawit Habtemichael n’a bénéficié d’aucun soin médical. Cette absence d’assistance serait la cause de sa mort, intervenue au cours du deuxième semestre 2010. A Eiraeiro, Dawit Habtemichael était le prisonnier numéro 12.

Mattewos Habteab

Après avoir été transférés, fin 2008, dans une prison de l’archipel des Dahlaks, Mattewos Habteab et Temesgen Gebreyesus avaient tous deux été reconduits sur le continent, au camp pénitentiaire d’Eiraeiro. C’est là que Mattewos Habteab, rédacteur en chef et cofondateur de Meqaleh, a finalement succombé à des conditions de détention trop difficiles.

Sahle Tsegazab, alias Wedi Itay

Ecrivain et journaliste freelance, collaborant régulièrement avec plusieurs journaux, comme Keste Debena mais également le quotidien pro-gouvernemental Hadas Eritrea, Wedi Itay avait été arrêté en octobre 2001. Il fait partie des personnes décédées au camp d’Eiraeiro, d’une maladie non identifiée et par manque de soins.

Avant celle de ces trois hommes, la mort de quatre journalistes arrêtés en même temps qu’eux avait déjà été confirmée : Medhanie Haile, Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Said Abdulkader, et Fessehaye Yohannes, dit "Joshua".

Il ne reste ainsi que quatre journalistes encore en vie parmi les victimes de la rafle de septembre 2001 : Dawit Isaac ; Seyoum Tsehaye ; Amanuel Asrat ; et Temesgen Gebreyesus.

II - Tortures et mauvais traitements pour les journalistes de médias d’Etat emprisonnés depuis 2009

Ancien garde de la prison militaire d’Adi Abeito, où sont détenus la plupart des journalistes de Radio Bana et autres médias d’Etat arrêtés en février 2009, Berhane Afro a fui l’Erythrée en 2012 pour demander l’asile en Israël. Selon son témoignage, le ministre érythréen de l’Information, Ali Abdu, ainsi que l’un de ses employés, Asmelash, se sont rendus en personne à Adi Abeito pour s’entretenir avec le directeur de la prison, Wedi Welela.

Toujours selon Berhane Afro, les journalistes détenus dans cette prison sont soumis à diverses sortes de torture : passages à tabac, détention à l’isolement, privation de nourriture, décharges électriques, manque d’accès aux soins, etc.

Ces terribles conditions de détention auraient coûté la vie à un journaliste prénommé Bereket. Il est à craindre qu’il s’agisse de Bereket Misghina, mais Reporters sans frontières n’est pas en mesure de le confirmer avec certitude.

Tous les journalistes arrêtés en 2009 sont accusés de connivence avec des ONG et gouvernements occidentaux ainsi qu’avec des mouvements d’opposition en exil. Ils ne sont pas autorisés à recevoir de visite. Certains d’entre eux, comme Mulubrahan Habtegebriel, journaliste, écrivain et traducteur, et Meles Negusse, jeune journaliste et poète, sont toujours détenus à Adi Abeito. D’autres ont été transférés dans d’autres centres de détention, comme le journaliste de la chaîne publique Eri-TV Isaac Abraham à May Srwa.

Arrêtée également en février 2009, la journaliste Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu (http://fr.rsf.org/erythree-prisonniere-depuis-2009-une-jeune-06-04-2012,42275.html) se trouverait toujours dans un hôpital de la capitale.

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