Reporters Without Borders is appalled by a new round-up of journalists by the Eritrean government, in which at least nine employees of state-owned media outlets have been arrested since 12 November 2006 and are being held at undisclosed locations in conditions that are probably extremely harsh.
"Terror reigns again among journalists in Eritrea," the press freedom organisation said. "The government controls its people by means of lies, fear and violence, and does not tolerate anyone fleeing the country. We hope this wave of arrests will not be greeted with international indifference like the last time. The international community must intercede as a matter of urgency."
Reporters Without Borders added: "On the basis of the information we recently obtained about the detention centre at Eiraeiro, we have every reason to fear for the physical safety and even for the lives of the journalists who have been detained."
Reporters Without Borders has learned from sources in Asmara that members of the security forces have been going to the information ministry every day since 12 November and, without giving any explanation, have been questioning employees of the public media, which are housed at the information ministry.
These are the public media journalists who have so far been arrested (the list is not exhaustive): Ahmed Baja of Eri-TV, Senait Tesfay of Eri-TV's Tigrinya-language service, Paulos Kidane of Eri-TV's Amharic-language service and Radio Dimtsi Hafash (Voice of the Broad Masses), Daniel Mussie of Radio Dimtsi Hafash's Oromo-language service, Temesghen Abay of Radio Dimtsi Hafash's Tigrinya-language service, Yemane Haile of the Eritrean News Agency (ENA), Fethia (surname unknown) of Eri-TV's Arabic-language service, Simon (surname unknown) of Eri-TV and an unidentified journalist working for Eri-TV's Arabic-language service.
A local source said those arrested were taken to a detention centre at Agip, (5 km south of the eastern town of Massawa), in an arid zone of salt production centres. An Eritrean journalist living in exile told Reporters Without Borders this round-up was probably ordered with the aim of "terrorising those journalists who have not yet fled the country."
The source said: "the government is on a state of maximum alert following the recent defection of a number of veteran journalists holding key posts within the information ministry." The detained journalists are accused of being the friends of, or being in contact with, the journalists who are now abroad, the source added. Reporters Without Borders is aware of at least six cases since the start of October of Eritrean journalists defecting after fleeing the country or requesting asylum abroad.
The news of this round-up comes on the eve of the "Day of Support for Imprisoned Journalists," which Reporters Without Borders has been organising on 23 November every year for the past 17 years. A total of 139 journalists are currently imprisoned worldwide. Eritrea, with at least 22 detained journalists, is Africa's biggest prison for the press and the third biggest in the world, after China (with 32) and Cuba (with 23).