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Eritrean government being asked for proof of life of detained journalists

As Eritrea undergoes its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the United Nations Human Rights Council, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) deplores the lack of any significant progress on press freedom and calls on the Eritrean authorities to allow all journalists held arbitrarily since 2001 to receive visits.

Constructed copy of Dawit Isaak's presumed Eritrean prison cell, Gothenburg, Sweden, 2015
Constructed copy of Dawit Isaak's presumed Eritrean prison cell, Gothenburg, Sweden, 2015

A.J. Andersson/Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published on rsf.org on 12 July 2018. 

It is only in the last two years that Eritrea has ceased to be last in RSF's World Press Freedom Index and is now ranked 179th out of 180 countries. It allowed a handful of foreign journalist to visit the capital, Asmara, under close surveillance in 2016. And in April 2018, it submitted its first-ever report on the human rights situation to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Right.

But these gestures have not been accompanied by any easing in the regime's extremely oppressive policies. RSF condemned the report's “denial of reality” in April and pointed out that Eritrea continues to be sub-Saharan Africa's biggest jailer of journalists.

According to RSF's tally, at least 11 journalists are currently detained in Eritrea, a country ruled for the past 25 years by Issaias Afeworki, regarded by RSF as one of the world's worst press freedom predators. No independent media outlet has been permitted since 2001. Radio Erena, a Paris-based radio station launched by Eritrean exile journalists in 2009, is one of the few sources of credible information about the internal situation.

Under the UPR process, the UN Human Rights Council periodically reviews each UN member state's human rights performance. When the situation in Eritrea was last reviewed in 2013, the Eritrean government accepted seven recommendations on freedom of expression and journalistic work. None of them has been implemented.

In 2016, the Eritrean foreign minister referred to the journalists detained in his country as “political prisoners” and insisted that “all of them are alive.” But since then, the authorities have provided no proof of life, have allowed no visits and have not brought any of them to trial, although some of them, such as the Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, have been held for the past 17 years.


RSF’s recommendations

  • Disclose the whereabouts for all journalists detained since 2001 and show proof of their life
  • Allow immediate visits to all detained journalists, in particular by the International Red Cross as well as the UN and
  • ACHPR’s Special Rapporteurs
  • Release without further delay all journalists detained arbitrarily
  • Allow independent media to resume operating
  • Let foreign media visit the country
  • Respect the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as regional and international agreements
  • Eritrea is a party to, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

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