Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eritrea, 6 years later

Shortly after 9/11--and conveniently ignored while the world press grappled with events--the media in Eritrea was essentially eliminated. Eritrea...not a country you hear much about in the news.
Located in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea became independent in 1993 & initially seemed to have amazing potential--its population was educated and committed to good government, there was a sudden flowering of the press, and strong Western support. And its capital, Asmara, is known for its incredible Art Deco architecture--legacy of its period as a colony of Italy.
But today Eritrea is the only African country to have no privately-owned news media, and has the worst freedom of expression record on the continent. It is one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, most infamously because of the week of Sept 18-25, 2001, when at least 18 journalists were rounded up, all free media was banned (and remaining media workers fled or went into hiding). Since these mass arrests six long years ago, it is believed that at least four imprisoned journalists have died due to horrific conditions. Last year, ten state journalists were also arrested.
This month, the Bush administration decided that Eritrea is a state sponsor of terrorism for alleged links to Islamist militants in Somalia. This briefly brought the conditions in Eritrea to the front pages of world media, but it seems unlikely that the government's increasing isolation will change conditions for the surviving prisoners. See this link for details about the conditions of their imprisonment, and here for a sample petition letter for Eritrean president Issayas Afewerki.

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