By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
September 1, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) – Three Eritrean journalists who have been detained for over a decade in Eritrea have died, the Paris-based media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) claimed in a report published on 30 August.
- Detained Eritrean journalist, Dawit Issac (BBC)
The three journalists had been held in prison since 2001 when President Issayas Afewerki’s government launched a crackdown against independent press, leading to the arrest of dozens of prominent journalists and dissidents as well as the closure of independent news outlets.
The latest reports, according to RSF are based on weeks of investigating reports from sources inside Eritrea and from prison guards who fled the country.
“Reporters without Borders have been able to confirm that three more journalists - Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab and Wedi Itay - have died in the northeastern prison camp of Eiraeiro," the group said without specifying the exact day they died.
Eiraeiro prison facility has an average temperature of 40 degrees Celsius and prisoners are held inside metal shipping containers. The camp is said to have been designed to cause a slow and painful death.
The group further said a fourth journalist arrested earlier in 2009, whose identity has not been confirmed, has also reportedly died at a military detention near the capital, Asmara.
Eritrea is among world’s top press freedom violators and Africa’s most prolific jailer of journalists.
Currently at least 30 Eritrean journalists remain locked behind bars where they face inhuman and ill treatment on daily bases. They were arrested for publishing articles critical of government.
"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 said.
Since Eritrea officially gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after 30 years of war with Ethiopia President Afewerki has led progessively more repressive regime.
The country does not have legal opposition parties and Afewerki does not permit national elections, establishing a one-party state .
Following the devastating 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, the Eritrean regime saw zero-tolerance for a free press and squashed all privately-owned news media.
Currently Eritrea has one radio station, one printing press and one television station all state-owned and tightly controlled.
In 2001, Afewerki has also arrested 11 high-ranking government officials including Vice President Mahmoud Sherifo, Foreign Minister Haile Woldetensae, Military Chief-of-Staff Ogbe Abraha and eight other central committee members for criticising the war with Ethiopia.