- Independent sources now confirm that Paulos Kidane, a prominent editor and presenter at Eritrea's government controlled broadcaster 'Eri-TV', died in an attempt to flee the country last month. Eritrean authorities earlier had claimed that his death was "accidental."
It has now been confirmed that Mr Kidane was among a group of seven Eritreans who set off on foot to Sudan on or about 10 June in a bid to leave their homeland. This is revealed by several independent sources who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from the Eritrean government.
Mr Kidane was the only known journalist in the group, but he was attempting to join the dozens of journalists fleeing the government's absolute control of the country's media since a massive crackdown on the now-defunct private press in 2001, including the jailing of dozens of journalists. Several journalists have already died following torture in secret Eritrean concentration camps.
The exact circumstances of Mr Kidane's death are not clear. Some sources claim he died of exhaustion. "Exhausted after six days of walking and affected by the epilepsy he suffered from, he had to stop a few kilometres short of the border and let his companions go on without him. They left him in a village, hoping he would subsequently recover enough strength to resume the trek," sources told the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF).
But other sources fear he may have been killed by Eritrean security forces. Suspicions arose when no news were heard from Mr Kidane. The first notice came in an internal announcement by the Eritrean Information Ministry in end-June, stating that Mr Kidane had died and asserting that his death was "accidental."
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), it was not clear whether Mr Kidane died in the custody of Eritrean security forces. Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu did not return CPJ's calls this week seeking comment and further information.
Based on earlier experiences with Eritrean forces' treatment of dissidents, many therefore assume that Mr Kidane was killed while in detention. The prominent media figure had already been in the focus of the Eritrean police. He was one of the nine public media journalists arrested in a crackdown beginning on 12 November 2006, after the defection of several prominent journalists. They were held on suspicion of staying in contact with the defectors or planning to flee the country themselves.
After his release a month later, Mr Kidane told RSF: "We were beaten and tortured in prison for refusing to give the passwords to our e-mail accounts. In the end we cracked because the pain was too much." He said they were held in an underground prison beneath a police station. After being released on bail, they were followed, their phones were tapped, they were forced to go back to work and they were expressly forbidden to leave Asmara.
Born in Ethiopia, Mr Kidane started his journalism career as a freelance sports writer in the mid-1990s. In 1999, he was deported to Eritrea in the aftermath of the border war between the two countries. He subsequently worked as a news and sports editor for the private weekly 'Hadas Admas' before the government shuttered the private press in 2001. Since that, he worked as a presenter with the Amharic service of state broadcaster 'Eri-TV' and state 'Radio Dimtsi Hafash' (Voice of the Broad Masses).
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