Detained Eritrean journalist admitted to hospital in serious condition

Friday 6 April 2012.
Reporters Without Borders has learned that the journalist Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu, in custody since her arrest in February 2009, was admitted to hospital in the Eritrean capital Asmara earlier this year. The organization is extremely worried about her state of health and concerned about the conditions under which she is being held.

«While the eyes of the world are on the bloodshed in Syria and the crackdown on the monks in Tibet who protest in dramatic fashion by setting themselves on fire, the fate of Eritrea continues to be greeted with indifference», the press freedom organization said.

«However, its citizens are ruled by a government every bit as cruel as those in Damascus or Beijing. At least 32 journalists are in prison without charge and without trial, some for more than 10 years.»

«The government of President Issaias Afewerki has already permitted the death in detention of at least four journalists. It issues no information on several others and it is not known whether they are still alive. Today, it is the life of Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu that it is playing with.»

The organization deplored the apathy of the international community, which has accommodated itself to the tragedy in Eritrea since 2001.

According to information reaching Reporters Without Borders, Mebrahtu is in serious condition in Asmara’s Halibet hospital.

She has been admitted to the hospital twice, once last November and again in January this year. She is under permanent guard and is allowed no visitors. Her family and friends have not been told of the nature of her illness but her treatment requires the purchase of medication abroad.

A journalist and poet, she is originally from the southern city of Adi Keyih and was arrested during a raid on Radio Bana on 22 February 2009, during which its entire staff was detained. She is supported by Reporters Without Borders and is sponsored by the organization’s Spanish section, as is her jailed fellow journalist Dawit Isaac.

In a rare piece of good news, Reporters Without Borders has learned that the journalist Said Abdulhai, arrested in March 2010, was released several months ago.

A veteran of the independence war against Ethiopia and a graduate of Libya’s University of Benghazi in the 1980s, he was one of the media department’s founders after independence. He has at various stages run the information ministry’s press department, the Eritrean news agency and the main pro-government newspaper, published in Tigrinya, English and Arabic. At the time of his arrest he was working for the foreign ministry and is now employed by the education ministry.

Some of her colleagues are still leaving the country to escape the dictatorship and possible arrest. The journalist Senay Gebremedhin, who worked for the Amharic-language service of the state radio station Dimtsi Hafash and the state television station Eri-TV and was employed by the information ministry for 14 years, relocated to neighbouring Ethiopia in January.

Another Eritrean journalist who wishes to remain anonymous for reasons of security and who fled at the same time as Gebremedhin, has contacted Reporters Without Borders to request assistance.

For more information on Eritrea

See also the French-language book «Les Erythréens» («The Eritreans») by writer and journalist Léonard Vincent published by the Paris-based publishing house Rivages.

Also recommended are two radio programmes in French entitled «Rendez-vous avec X» broadcast by the French state broadcaster France Inter in March:

•«L’Erythrée sous l’emprise du dictateur Issaias Afeworki» (1/2)
•«L’Erythrée sous l’emprise du dictateur Issaias Afeworki» (2/2)
A Press Conference, in Stockholm, on Dawit Isaac

On 22 March, the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders arranged a news conference in Stockholm to publicize the legal measures it had taken in defence of the imprisoned journalist Dawit Isaac.

«This is a turning point. Dawit Isaac’s case has reached a new level», said lawyer Percy Bratt. «The Government of Eritrea must now fulfill its words regarding imprisoned journalist Dawit Isaac and present him before a Court without delay», added Jesper Bengtsson, chairman of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders.

A writ for Habeas Corpus was sent to the High Court in Asmara by Reporters Without Borders in July 2011 but yet another copy of the writ has now been handed over by the EU representation in Asmara. Both the EU Parliament and the Swedish Government support the action. It has now been confirmed that the writ, signed by jurists Mr. Jesús Alcalá, Ms. Prisca Orsonneau and Mr. Percy Bratt, has reached the Court.

The fundamental idea behind the old legal practise of Habeas Corpus is that no one shall have the power to arbitrarily and quietly lock persons up without being controlled by a Court. The right to submit a writ for Habeas Corpus is granted in Eritrean law. That is stated in Articles 19 and 20 of the Eritrean Criminal Procedure Code and Article 179 of the Eritrean Civil Procedure Code. It is also granted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

The Court will then decide whether there are any legal grounds to keep him imprisoned.

According to the Eritrean Criminal Procedures Act a person cannot be held for more than 28 days. He must then either be prosecuted or released. Dawit Isaac has neither been prosecuted or sentenced since he was arrested 10 years ago.

The action is supported by the editors of 21 newspapers in seven European countries: El País, Gazeta Wyborcza, Berliner Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, Der Spiegel (Spiegelonline), Stuttgarter Zeitung, TAZ, Iltalehti, Helsingin Sanomat, Hufvudstadsbladet, Berlingske, BT, Ekstrabladet, Aftenposten, Dagbladet, Verdens Gang, Aftonbladet, Dagens Nyheter, Expressen, Göteborgs-Posten and Svenska Dagbladet.

For questions please contact Björn Tunbäck, Reporters Without Borders – Sweden: +46 703 27 09 12

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