An international press watchdog Thursday accused the
Eritrean government of being responsible for the death of a
playwright who had been in detention for several years, a charge the
government denies. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from
Fessehaye Yohannes, nicknamed "Joshua,"
was a poet, playwright and journalist who was detained in 2001 with
almost a dozen other journalists and many members of the political
|Fessehaye 'Joshua' Yohannes
According to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, Joshua
died on January 11 in a prison camp in northern Eritrea after having
"We have received from at least three different sources that
don't know each other this very, very sad information about Joshua
that says that, after having been treated several times in different
hospitals in Asmara, he was taken back to Eiraeiro where he died of
the very extremely harsh and dreadful conditions of detention in
this facility," said Reporters Without Borders' Leonard
The press watchdog's statement called on the Eritrean government
to hand Joshua's body over to his family or prove that he is still
alive. The watchdog also wants the government to account for three
other journalists who were reportedly killed in detention.
Eritrean presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel rejects
Reporters Without Borders' statement.
"In the first place, I don't know the person you're talking
about," he said. "In the second place, people are imprisoned
if they commit an offense of whatever type, but there is no torture
- the government does not practice torture."
Yemane says Reporters Without Borders has been conducting a
"smear campaign" against Eritrea for unknown reasons.
In its press freedom report of 2006, Reporters Without Borders
named Eritrea as being among the worst violators of press freedom in
The report says there are more than 100 political prisoners in
jail, with at least 13 journalists being locked up without having
access to their lawyers or families.
In 2001, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki suspended independent
press in his country and launched a security operation to arrest
influential members of the private media who appealed for democratic
reforms in the young country.
Several years ago, a Voice of America reporter was arrested and
jailed in Eritrea, because of a report he filed for VOA. He has
since been released.
The government denies that there is a lack of press freedom in