Eritrean official says jailed journalists were security threat

Saturday, 07 August 2010 00:50 Mohamed Keita (CPJ)

Since a week after September 11, 2001, when the government of Eritrea threw into secret prisons journalists from its once-vibrant private press, the only certainty it has offered about the fate of the prisoners has been ambiguity. Over the years, officials have offered various explanations for the arrests—from nebulous anti-state conspiracies involving foreign intelligence to press law violations. They have even denied that the journalists themselves ever existed. From the Eritrean president to the public relations officer with the Eritrean Ministry of Information, Eritrean officials have been consistent in their refusal to disclose whether the journalists are alive or dead and their suggestion that the journalists will be held indefinitely without formal charge or trial.

On Sunday, a senior Eritrean official added to the painful uncertainty endured by the families and colleagues of the imprisoned journalists, such as Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isaac, by stating that the government had decided to “move forward,” leaving the journalists and other jailed political dissidents in the eternal oblivion of indefinite detention.

Yemani Gebreab, a senior adviser to Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki, said this in an exclusive interview with Swedish freelance journalist Donald Boström published on the website of Sunday leading Swedish daily Aftonbladet on Sunday. Gebreab, head of political affairs of Eritrea’s ruling Party For Democracy and Justice, and a target of U.S. sanctions in connection with Eritrea’s alleged involvement in Somalia, was in Sweden attending last week’s Eritrean Festival, an annual fundraising and cultural event exclusive to expat supporters of the Eritrean government.

Asked about the basis of Isaac’s imprisonment, the 59-year-old former top propagandist for Eritrea’s guerilla liberation movement said the journalist was being held for “very serious crimes regarding Eritrea's national security and survival as an independent state.” Pressed for details about the alleged crimes, Gebreab said Isaac was involved in a “conspiracy” by a group of Eritreans “to facilitate” an invasion of the country by archfoe neighbor Ethiopia during the bloody border war between the two countries.

Aaron Berhane, the exiled former editor-in-chief of Isaac’s newspaper, Setit, remembers the war period very differently. “At that time, the Eritrean government supported the private press by all means,” he told me, explaining that authorities gave journalists the go ahead to move freely, and exempted them from military draft. “We never criticized the government during that war because the Eritrean press law did not allow us to speak on internal affairs during wartime,” Berhane said. “The government was happy with that because we were focused on countering the Ethiopian propaganda and mobilize people to defend the country.”

The war simmered to its present stalemate in June 2000 and by the time the Eritrean government carried out the September 2001 roundup of political dissidents and editors such as Isaac, the private newspapers had shifted focus toward scrutinizing national affairs. “Once the border conflict was over, we said we now have to look at what’s going on in the country and when we started asking tough questions, then the government became very upset,” Berhane said.

Isaac’s brother, Esayas, who lives in Sweden, had harsher words about Gebreab. “You know, these guys always come up with a new conspiracy every year,” he said. “Last year, it was the so-called CIA plot. This is not surprise for me or any serious Eritrean. Everyone who has followed this case knows he’s a liar.”

Gebreab’s comments at times did appear to be at odds with facts. “We were never given an opportunity to express our point of view on this issue,” he claimed, adding “there’s nothing we hide, and therefore we’re willing to communicate and express our views.” Yet, just seconds later, when Boström asked him to give assurances as to whether Isaac was still alive, Gebreab deflected: “I don’t think there’s any point in discussing the specifics of the issue and I have given reason why he’s in detention. The specifics I don’t believe are very important.”

Questioned about Eritrea’s refusal to grant Isaac a day in court, Gebreab was equally vague. “This is a special case for us,” he said. “For this reason, there was a deliberate decision made by the Eritrean government and explained and discussed by the Eritrean people that this was the best way for us to go.”

He justified the Eritrean policy by saying, “We can talk about many, many countries over the past decade or so, especially after the events of 9/11. Many countries have held people they felt were a serious threat to their security.” He went on: “So I don't think it's fair to accuse Eritrea on this point and I don't believe that many of those who accuse Eritrea on this issue really have the moral high ground to accuse Eritrea on this issue.”

While Eritrea is among the few nations as diverse as Iran and the United States who have detained journalists for prolonged periods without charge or trial, the Red Sea nation stands out as the only country to maintain that the condition of the journalists is a state secret while denying them due process. Some of the imprisoned journalists are believed to have died in custody, including Fessehaye ”Joshua” Yohannes.

Perhaps it’s not surprising then that Gebreab should ask: “Can’t Swedish media find something positive to say about Eritrea?”




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+1 #28 Zegeremo 2010-08-08 07:27
What was your reply to the question why don´t you implimente the constitution? Why don´t we have public
ellected predient or ellection at all? and when the jung man further asked you if we have dimocracy in
the country it was possible to stop the war Ethiopia and Eritrea .Specially when he said with the wrong
dicision of one person to see 20,000 of human life losts and alot of economical and terrotorial losts
only within two weeks war in my side it is not acceptable. What was you replied to this conserned citzen?
Haven`t you replied to discredit our Tegadelties and joke at them is impossibe ? who is joking at mertyers
by the way ?the one who asked you,or the one who is in the power? What was you replied about deteny Herros?
Just to save time and if anyone wants to pruff what i am saying is wrong or wright Just listen this link
VoMD August 4, 2009 Broadcast and judge yourself, weather Monkey is seriously regarding the people questions.
+1 #27 Zegeremo 2010-08-08 06:55
Seconed,about 2% taxes. Are you serious that you have no complain from Eritreans and all are willingly
paying you taxes?What a lie!First let alone your oppenents diaspora community, even your supporters not
more than 50% of them are paying taxes.Only those few igoists and those imigrants without passport are
indirect forcfully to pay you taxes. So don´t be lie ok? Even at this Festival,someon e asked you. Why we
poor real citzens must be misprivilaged because we not able to pay taxes, while Woyane origins injoy the
rights regardless their motives because they able to pay?Is it not a pruff that citzens are complaing too?

Third you replied " if Sweeds or some Sweeds belive, that they more conserned about any Eritrean in
detention, then Eritrean themselves, then the Eritrean governmrnt itself." Ato, yemane please be honest,
What did you replied to one conserned Eritrean citzen question last year? will continue
+1 #26 Zegeremo 2010-08-08 06:52
Let me begin contradict and ask you from the first one? Are you serious that you in deteil explaining to
the Eritrean people and all Eritreans are knowing , why and why for in what reasons are all polititical
prisoners are arested? If it was so why last year during you leading the Frankfurt Festival in Germany
someone asked you that he doesn´t know about the reasons why and in what reasons you are arested the
former herros and innocent believers? We knew what you replied to the questions that time. will continue
+1 #25 Zegeremo 2010-08-08 06:37
This is totally impudence! Ato Yemane , don´t you be ashamed when you said the following three statments,
as if you giving regard or conserned for the people questions, demands and welfers? You told to the sweed
Jurnalist at first when he asked you about detainees and the consern of the international community, you
said" whom do we answer atlast? We answer to our people, we answer to our socity." seconed, when he asked
you about 2% you replaied,"why don´t we get complain from Eritreans but from outside countries? Thirdly
when he strongly asked you about Dawit Yisahak´s case ,you replied,"if Sweeds or some Sweeds belive, that
they more conserned about any Eritrean in detention,then Eritrean themselves,then the Eritrean governmrnt
itself."Atlast even you replied by saying as human welfare in Eritrea is secured.Please let me contradict
and challenge you by asking simple questions to your replied, incase if you realy want to here our views.
-2 #24 Hizbay 2010-08-08 04:21
The reason that PIA was inflexible to diplomatic
"pressure" or manipulation by certain quarters
does not mean that the opposition people
have done or doing good to Eritrea and
its people and precious history of heorism
and his chewa culture.
+4 #23 Ruth93 2010-08-08 03:46
Ato Yemane I know you sir very well and you know my family too well. Brother you used to a a good chritian in Christ. Where as now you lied infront of the world and your family.You dont have to do this for the nasty life you are living; for what .It is better to be a guard than to be a minister or government official in Eritrea.The whole interview was a disaster .Iwish you never have it .I remember President Mengistu Hailemariam answering to a jornalist "I HAVE NEVER KILLED A BUG LET ALONE A FELLOW HUMANBING"
You could stand for the truth ;and the truth will set you are now an old man .You shuld think of your good family .Hitry and good will always remember what and you government are doing to the good people of Eritrea,
+3 #22 honest 2010-08-08 03:31
I expect nothing from this Monkey!!

Yemane is a Monkey, and an instrument of Isayas afewerki
+6 #21 Ikram Redi 2010-08-08 01:53
What is wrong with you Yemane? You answers were not relevant to the questions. This is because there is no crime committed by the journalists including Isaak. So, you were just going around the bush to cover the truth. You failed. always at the end of the day truth prevails. This difficult moment will pass but for you history will always remember you as a dishonest politician who cannot stand for the truth and for the people. Shame on you.
+5 #20 netsanet.constitutio 2010-08-07 23:07
May the Lord God reach Eritrea. May God comfort the families of the detained ones. I wish to see the Constitution of Eritrea implemented in Eritrea. Freedom of speech and expression, Liberty to decide for oneself, freedom from the indefinite military service and freedom from poverty are the fundamental needs of our society. May the lord God grant us those wishes
+3 #19 Abdu Saad Hamid 2010-08-07 19:06
It is sad to hear and/or witness falling a prey to arbitary practices against diverse opinions of the people who fought strongly to achieve full national independence and fudnamental freedoms for half a century, today Eritrea turned into intolerable hell to its citizens (politicians, journalists, merchants, religoius leaders etc.) this is a serious indicatror shows that the country is going toward unknown fate or poltical consequences in all walks of life. Accordingly it is necessary to struggle strongly to bring chagnes in the structure of the Eritrean state and in the mentality of the poltical admisntration instead of the repressive ruling regime in Eritrea.
+2 #18 SHALOM ERITREA 2010-08-07 18:25
A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself. ~Arthur Miller
No news is good news. No journalists is even better. ~Nicolas Bentley
Journalists cover words and delude themselves into thinking they have committed journalism. ~Hedrick Smith
መሓሪ ጋዜጣዊ መግለጺኡ ክሳብ ዘውጽኦ መጻንሒ ዜና
1. ካብ ጀበርቲ.ኮም '' ወልደየሱስ ዓማር ንሓደ ኣባል ፈጻሚት ሽማግለ ኣደስኪሉ ''
ወልደየሱስ መራሕ ሃገር ክኸውን ሃመም እናበለ ዝኣርግ ዘሎ ክነሱ ፤ ናይ ኣዳሳኻል ልምምድ ጀሚሩ ኣሎ ፡፡
2. ዳንኤል ተወልደ ዝተባህለ ኣብ ዋዕላ ኪዳን ዝሳተፍ ዘሎ ምስ '' ኣሰና '' ኣብ ዝገበሮ ኢንተርቪው '' ኤርትራ ብዛዕባ ፈደራሊዝም ከስተምህሩ ዝኽእሉ ፈላጣትን ምሁራትን የብላን " ኢሉ ፡፡ ኢሳያስ ዋና ''ሓዳስ ኤርትራ'' ጸረ ምሁራት ዘጽመመና ከይኣክልሲ ፤ ተወልደ ወዲ '' ኪዳን ኤርትራ'' ኸኣ ጌና ኪዳን ኣብ ስልጣን ከይሓኾሩ ኣብ ርእሲ ምሁራት ዘለዎም ንዕቐትን ምንእኣስን ኣሚቱ ኣሎ፡፡
እቲ ጻዕዳ ዝሃቦ ኣስተምህሮ ዕላምኡ እንታይ ከም ዝኾነ እውን ዝተሰቆሮ ኣይመስልን ፤ ብጀካ ጽቡቕ ኔሩ ካብ ምባል ሓሊፉ ጥልቕ ዝበለ ርእይቶ ክህብ ዝኽእል ኣይመስልን ፡፡
+2 #17 justice 2010-08-07 18:19
yemanne is a real chimpanzee who is there only to serve his boss isseyas .
+2 #16 EH 2010-08-07 16:11
Some countries have chosen to implement the "arms embargo" part of the sanctions - which is meaningless as these countries are not the source of arms for Eritrea. These countries on the other hand have basically ignored the other provisions of the sanctions. That is why Yemane is traveling freely.

That is what the UN sanctions basically means. Countries may elect to "implement it" as it fits their purposes.
-11 #15 Nimen 2010-08-07 15:03
I wonder why people like calling names? I don't have an independent information on the situation of the journalist Dawit.Better not to brag for the sake of bragging as some falks like to do

Peace to Beautiful Eritrea
+10 #14 Sorobety 2010-08-07 14:35
Aasking very ordinary question is against the culture of SHA'BIA, then asking tough questions and criticizing the destructive policies of the regime must be a threat to national security. In the culture of PFDG a 100% obeident citizen is a good and the opposite is a traitor.
+11 #13 Aster23 2010-08-07 14:28
How is the monkey able to travel to Europe, wasn't he under UN sancation names list?
+8 #12 justice 2010-08-07 12:18
this jornalistes are held for indefinite period of time becouse the accusation is totally fabricated and not based on factes designed by coward ISSEYAS. in my view this jornalistes were not a threat to national security. isseyas blieved they could be a threat to his own existence as an unelected president. jornalistes who tried to do good things for the people of eritrea, they are paying with their lifes in prison. while sorry to see the eritrean people saying nothing doing nothing against that.
+5 #11 Marcus 2010-08-07 11:42
Monkey see Monkey do!

Yemane Ghebreab, the clueless useful idiot. Isaias will throw him away as soon as he outlives his usefulness. By then, alas, it will be too late.
+7 #10 samrawit 2010-08-07 10:04
A Question to PFDJians
Eritreans are escaping from Eritrea from you to Ethiopia.Why you are declaring Ethiopians are the enemies of Eritreans.Why you think

The people who fought for 30 years
The children of maritayers
The mothers of maritayers and patriotes
The dispersing bond of families.
The hunger to the Eritreans those who are industries ppl
The ppl with 2 ports riche and generioues.
The country reach with underground gold.

+5 #9 SHALOM ERITREA 2010-08-07 08:52
May God protect Dawit Issac and give him the chance to see his family. Amen.
As far as Yemane is concerned he will have his day when people will spit on his face and show him what the rule of law means.
My next question is based on the following : “Once the border conflict was over, we said we now have to look at what’s going on in the country and when we started asking tough questions, then the government became very upset,” Berhane said.
Does Mehari believe on what Berhane said ? Why is that Mehari is not giving us detailed true reports on what is happening behind the closed doors of the Waala ? Is he appeasing his amigos ? Mehari , your news is not news, you are advertising to confuse the silent Eritrean majority. What a salesman ? We don't trust you anymore. Are the opposition anti free press ?

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