Harsh detention of journalists in Eritrea

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

His Excellency Ghirmai Ghebremariamabbai, Ambassador to Canada
Embassy of the State of Eritrea
1708 New Hampshire Avenue N.W.
Washington, D.C., DC 20009
United States of America

May 24, 2011

Dear Ambassador,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE calls on the Eritrean government to unconditionally release all journalists being held in prison without charge or fair trial, and uphold their internationally-recognized right to freedom of expression. It is believed that almost 30 journalists are currently imprisoned in Eritrea.

In September 2001, independent press in the country were shut down months before an election was due in December 2001. Ten journalists were arrested for publishing articles critical of the government, six of whom remain in prison. The other four are believed to have died in prison. Since then, journalists have continued to be arrested, and the total number currently imprisoned is believed to be almost 30. We are gravely concerned about the status of these journalists as the Eritrean government has held them incommunicado, often without charges, and refuses to comment on their location and well-being.

Reports from journalists who have fled Eritrea describe grim and inhumane detention centres, where detainees are held in metal shipping containers. The containers amplify the extreme heat during the day and extreme cold during the night. Detainees are reportedly suffering from serious health concerns, and many have died while imprisoned. Approximately 50 Eritrean journalists have fled into exile for fear of arrest and similar treatment since the crack down on independent press began almost a decade ago.

CJFE calls on the Eritrean government to cease its harsh and secretive detention of journalists, and to release all journalists imprisoned without charge or fair trial.

We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours Sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Cc: Mr. David Collins, Canadian High Commissioner to Kenya
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs