Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Eritrea
As of December 31, 1998

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At the end of the year, Eritrea and Ethiopia were on the verge of full-scale war over a small area on their common border. Attempts at mediation, brokered by a host of African and Western governments, have failed because of the sheer determination of both President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to wage a war that the two poverty-stricken countries can ill afford. The fact that Afwerki and Meles were comrades in arms and victors in a protracted war against Ethiopia's former Marxist military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam is just one of a number of ironic factors contributing to the personal nature of this conflict.

Any reporter who doubted that the regime would punish independent reporting had only to take note of the 20-month detention without charge of Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent Ruth Simon. In this hostile environment, local journalists stuck to strictly pro-government reporting and carefully confined the topics they covered to those that reinforced the regime's nationalistic fervor, such as Ethiopia's forced deportation of Ethiopian citizens of Eritrean discent. In contrast, there was little critical coverage when the Eritrean government began its expulsion of Eritrean citizens of Ethiopian origin.

When the conflict began in May, privately owned magazines and newspapers were being published, and were being sold and read freely. Their content, however, is regulated by a 1997 press law mandating that both news and opinion conform to the official interpretation of "the objective reality of Eritrea." The broadcast media, consisting of one television and one radio station, remain under government control, and there are no provisions in effect allowing for private ownership of broadcast media. Although private ownership of the print media is allowed, newspapers and magazines must obtain licenses from the Ministry of Information, and all reporters must be registered with the ministry.

In November, CPJ presented an International Press Freedom Award to Ruth Simon in absentia -- part of a campaign to bring world attention to her plight and to secure her release. At that time, Simon was the only female journalist in detention in the region, and she had been imprisoned without charge since April 1997-longer than any other journalist in the region. She was released in December, but at press time, the Eritrean government had not clarified the terms of her release. (Click to see more on Ruth Simon and the International Press Freedom Awards.)
Attacks on the Press in Eritrea in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
5/11/98 Ruth Simon, Agence France-Presse Threatened

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