- A total of eight out of the nine Eritrean state media journalists being held for several weeks at a police station in Asmara reportedly have been released. But the reporters are being constantly supervised by state agents, who fear they might follow the example of several colleagues that fled the country.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) in a statement today said it had learned that three more Eritrean state media journalists were recently released from police station No. 5 in the capital, Asmara. But a last journalist of the group - that originally totalled nine - is still being held.
Those freed were said to be Temesghen Abay of the Tigrinya-language service of 'Radio Dimtsi Hafash', Getachew Asfaha of Eri-TV's Amharic-language service and Asmerom Berhe of Eri-TV's Tigrinya-language service. Mr Asfaha was freed on 16 February 2007. The exact date of the release of Mr Abay and Mr Berhe is not known.
The state reporters were detained in the course of a wave of arrests of public media journalists launched on 12 November, following the defection of several prominent journalists, which had particularly irked the government. The defected journalists held key positions in the government's propaganda apparatus.
Their detained colleagues appear to have been suspected of staying in contact with the defectors or of planning to flee the country themselves. No formal reason was however given for their detention, as is usual in Eritrea's treatment of the press.
In all, nine state media journalists were arrested and then released on bail, one after another. "Since their release, they have been followed, their phones have been tapped, they have been forced to go back to work and they have been expressly forbidden to leave Asmara," RSF reports today. State security obviously still fears they may try leaving the country.
Since a large government crackdown on the free press and the internal opposition of the ruling party - the only one allowed - in 2001, no independent media exist in Eritrea. The Ministry of Information has taken total control of all remaining media in the country, and only allows heavily censored pro-government propaganda to be aired and printed in the country.
Meanwhile, tens of independent journalists and opposition politicians still rot in secret Eritrean prisons, suffering torture and otherwise inhumane conditions. At least four journalists have died under these conditions of detention during the last year.
All are held detained without having been charged with any crime or without being allowed to see a lawyer. Protests by the world community and orders by the African Commission to charge and try the alleged criminals have not led to anything. Asmara authorities hold their media policy is a model for all of Africa.
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