Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Eritrea Houses World's Biggest Prison For Journalists

A tiny country on the east coast of Africa, Eritrea and its 5 million inhabitants don't often make the international news stage. But it is more politics than population that keeps the country out of the press. Eight years after a government mandate that shut down all private news outlets and ended free speech, Eritrea now matches China and Iran in the number of journalists it has detained without trial.

Reporters Without Borders announced that Eritrea now holds at least 30 journalists in prison, adding that four of the journalists who were detained in the September of 2001 crackdown have died due to harsh prison conditions which included metal containers and underground cells.

Aaron Berhane is the former editor of Setit, the largest private paper in Eritrea before it was shut down. He managed to escape to Canada after the fateful announcement in 2001, one of the few among his peers and colleagues who is not dead or in jail. He writes about the first time he heard the government announcement of the media blackout, saying:

"
I was in bed when my wife turned on the radio to listen to the morning news. 'Starting today, September 18, 2001, the government has ordered all private presses to stop their publications,'" he recalls. "I felt as if I was dreaming. I didn’t move my head. I was still under the blanket."

Berhane got lucky. He wasn't home the night the police came to his house to arrest him and he is still able to practice journalism. He now runs Meftih, a community paper geared towards helping other
Eritreans in Canada.

"
There is no government interference or police harassment here and there is respect for the rule of law. In Eritrea, it’s not the law that rules, it’s one person that rules the law," says Berhane. "I hope that one day my country will enjoy the blessings that I experience here in Canada and that my colleagues will be eventually set free."

1 comment:

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