Home | News    Friday 11 December 2009

Eritrea keeps the lead in Africa’s journalist jailing list

December 10, 2009 (ADDIS ABABA) – An annual prison census 2009,released by the New York-based Media watch dog, Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ) revealed that Eritrea, for the 8th year in a row now, is the biggest journalist jailing country in the African continent.

In a report sent to Sudan Tribune, the group said that the tiny red sea nation still holds the ‘‘dubious distinction’’ since 2001 when Eritrean authorities abruptly closed the private press by arresting at least ten editors without charge or trial.

‘‘With at least 19 journalists behind bars, Eritrea by far leads the list of shame of African nations that imprison journalists.’’ CPJ said.

‘‘The Eritrean government has refused to confirm if the detainees are still alive, even when unconfirmed online reports suggest that three journalists have died in detention.’’ It added.

Globally, a total of 136 reporters, editors, and photojournalists were thrown to jail this year, a 9 percent increase to that of last year’s.

According to CPJ annual count, which excluded the many journalists arrested and released throughout the year, the list ranked Eritrea fourth world wide after china, Iran and Cuba.

‘‘On December 1, a total of 25 journalists were imprisoned in Sub-Saharan Africa in retaliation for their journalism, and nearly 90 percent of these journalists were detained without charges in secret detention facilities.’’ The watch dog further said.

Eritrea’s neighbour, Ethiopia ranked second among African nations with four journalists being held in custody.

‘‘Four journalists were held in Ethiopian prisons, including two Eritrean journalists who are detained in secret locations without any formal charges or legal proceedings since late 2006.’’ The report said.

On Saturday freedom group, Reporters without Borders expressed concern on Ethiopia’s press freedom and on reports of harassment to journalists after one of country’s leading private news paper, the weekly Amharic Addis Neger quit publication in what it said was in fear to government’s growing persecution and harassment against its staff.

Three of the paper’s Editors and founders fled the country claiming that the Ethiopian government was secretly preparing to press charges against them and other staff members, on the bases of the newly adopted tough anti-Terrorism law.

Although there is no official respond from the side of the government over the alleged accusations, a news release issued by Reporters without Borders quoted Bereket Simon, Ethiopian government communication minister, as saying that the government had no intention targeting the paper.

Reporters without Borders in a statement on Saturday condemned what it called ‘‘a climate of fear’’ prevailing in Ethiopia.

‘‘The spectre of the 2005 crack down on the opposition and the independent press seems resurfacing in the run up to the May 2010 general election’’

‘‘We condemn the fact that the paper has been forced to close because of a smear campaign and because its staff was gripped by fear. We hope the government’s assurances will allow to resume publishing soon’’ the group said.

Ethiopians will go to polls in May 23 next year, the first since 2005 when nearly 200 people were killed in a post-election violence.

Ethiopian leaders have repeatedly expressed their commitment to conduct a first ever Democratic, fair and peaceful election.

Recently, PM Meles Zenawi-led government and over 60 other political parties, including main opposition rivals sign a landmark agreement on an election code of conduct.

The agreement which later endorsed by parliament as a bill of the country was said to be as a historic and a major step forward in building democracy and unity to the horn of Africa’s country. Most opposition groups hailed the agreed code as binding, trustworthy and an indication of government’s keenness to hold democratic election.

(ST)