18 September 2013

Eritrea: Underground Independent Newspaper Launched in Eritrea

Asmara — Freedom Friday Movement (Arbi Harnet), announced today that their underground newspaper started circulation on the streets of Asmara today, 12 years after the day the government banned all privately owned new papers and arrested journalists and proprietors.

MeqaleH Forto (Echoes of Forto), is said to have been inspired by the attempted coup on January 21 this year. The paper is written by a small team located both inside the country and in the Eritrean diaspora, whilst the dissemination is carried out entirely by members of the team inside the country using informal links and networks.

Freedom Friday Activists claim that while their pilot circulations have been limited, with a lot of room for expansion, they are happy with both the collaborative writing and the system for distribution.

In its inaugural edition, MeqaleH Forto included Tigrigna and Arabic articles that familiarised Freedom Friday and the other diaspora based Resistance movements to activists and members of the public inside the country. This is in line with the objectives of the movement to link the resistance inside the country to those in the diaspora.

The financial resources required for the production and distribution of the paper were all met by supporters of the movement, who have are mainly been mobilised via Facebook and other social media platforms.

Coordinators of the project stated: 'the date is significant for us as the very last editions of Eritrea's fledgling private newspapers ran last 12 years ago today, and while we are aware that one underground newsletter with extremely limited circulation isn't the answer to freedom of press in a secretive country such as Eritrea, it is our contribution to keeping that hope alive for us and others to build on'

Initial reactions from those who read the inaugural issue was said to be generally positive and areas for improvement on print quality have been taken into consideration for addressing subsequent issues.

Freedom Friday is now looking for media professionals and those with links and networks inside the country to support in the production and distribution of subsequent issues.

1. Freedom Friday (Arbi Harnet) is an Eritrean movement that seeks to link the resistance inside the country to those in the diaspora. Main activities of the movement include, mass telephone calls encouraging members of the

Eritrean public to take collective action to protest human and democratic rights violation

2. On January 21, 2013 a group of junior army officers attempted a coup that was later foiled; they occupied the building housing the Eritrean Ministry of Information in an area locally known as Forto and made their demands for constitutional government.

3. On September 18, 2001 the government of Eritrea arrested 11 top government officials who demanded democratic reform in the country. On that same day the government also banned all independent media outlets and arrested journalists and newspaper proprietors. None of those arrested on that day or subsequently have been charged and their whereabouts has never been officially disclosed nor have they been allowed access to visitors including family members.

Meron Estefanos is a human rights activist, journalist, radio presenter for Radio Erena & co-founder of International Commission on Eritrean Refugees.

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