Blog   |   Eritrea

Eritrean president slams 'CIA-financed' media

(Reuters)

Last week, President Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea, Africa's leading jailer of journalists, discussed press freedom during an extensive interview with Swedish broadcaster TV4. Afeworki, a revered guerrilla commander who led this Red Sea country to nationhood in 1993, banned Eritrea's budding private media in 2001 and threw journalists in secret prisons without charge or trial. Speaking to Swedish journalist Donald Boström from his palace in the capital, Asmara, Afeworki, at left, took questions on the fate of long-held journalist Dawit Isaac, an Eritrean with Swedish citizenship, and lashed out at critics of the country's press freedom record. 

Isaac and nine other editors of now-banned private newspapers have disappeared in government custody since a brutal 2001crackdown on dissenting voices. Asked which crime Isaac, the one-time co-owner of Eritrea's once-leading private weekly Setit, had committed, the president declared, "I don't know." He went on: "I don't even care where he is or what he is doing. He did a big mistake." Afeworki declined to comment on a follow-up question about the nature of the alleged "mistake."

In a 2004 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in response to a question about the late journalist Fesshaye Yohannes, Afeworki said, "I don't know him." Yohannes died in prison.

But the president claimed better knowledge of Eritrea's once-outspoken private press, which he brutally silenced nearly eight years ago. "There were no private media," he said, adding: "The CIA would finance newspapers, hire journalists, open bank accounts for them outside the country and give them what they have to write in their papers. This is not media."

What is media in Eritrea today are government-run outlets producing propaganda under tight supervision. Many state media journalists have fled the country citing intense censorship, intimidation or arbitrary imprisonment, and some, like Paulos Kidane have even died while trying. In late 2007, authorities expelled Peter Martell, a foreign correspondent based in Asmara, for refusing to name sources who had expressed disillusionment for the government.

For Afeworki, however, "no one is prevented from freedom of speech." Authorities even recently published an editorial on the Eritrean government's Web site called "The Culture of Openness: Unique and Fabulous Eritrean Value."

The president told his Swedish interviewer: "The fight is always between those who want to control the media and control freedom of speech for their own end and the people at large who would like to have free ways of expression."

And when asked whether Isaac would be released or taken to court, Afeworki declared: "No, we don't release him. We don't take [him] to trial. We know how to deal with him and others like him and we have our own ways of dealing with that."

You can watch the full interview here

More on
Published

Like this article? Support our work

Comments

Excellent piece Mohammed.
It is sad to see the sickness of this president is getting worse day after day. No one would expect such stupid answer from the president who leads the country which got its independence after 30 years bloody war.

What we can conclude now is, it is worthless to discuss with President Issaias about Eritrean journalists. He blamed them for doing some mistake, but he is not even able to mention any wronge doing. The only reason he has kept them in jail is for not applauding his faulty administration.

Good job, Mohammed and keep it up.
Aaron

Yeah! He is absolutely right! That is what is happening, and the fight is always between those who want to control freedom of speech to their own end (greediness. That is indeed the main reason why African's are lagging behind, due to greedy neo-cons and selfish corrupted African leaders. The truth will prevail, and Eritrea and H.E.President Isaias Afewerki will win over those who are denying the free expression of Africans.

Wish success for Eritrea and those who are fighting for the voice less by disclosing the greedy cheaters.

CPJ,

please leave us alone. Eritrea is progressing and we don't need private media. we want to be strong and united. groups like CPJ want to divide eritreans and make us weak!!! please STOP trying to harm eritrea reputation

We can see example of Ethiopia where the 10 or 20 private media but ethiopia is now DIVIDED into 20 genocidal political parties and groups ready to kill eachother. We don't want that in Eritrea. The same example in Rwanda when the media led to the genocide.
In Eritrea, we have peace. Our government is doing a good job. You can call Isaias any label you want. You can call him dictator but he is our dictator and we like him. President Isaias is our hero. PLEASE LEAVE US ALONE!!!!!

The president needs to be commended. For once, he has actually given an honest answer to at least one question. When asked whether Isaac would be released or taken to court, Afeworki declared: "No, we don't release him. We don't take [him] to trial. We know how to deal with him and others like him and we have our own ways of dealing with that." At least he's telling the truth about what he truly feels.

This is a joke from a farcical regime that's stripped the people of their human rights and dignity. Equally to blame for this plight are the so-called opposition groups of Eritrea that can't seem make themselves neither useful nor available. They suffer from the very same syndrome that mad-dog Afewerki finds himself ailing from. They are all after the same thing. Power! I personally haven't seen any party with a genuine agenda to liberate Eritrea's ill-fated people from the claws for this tyrannical junta.

Keep up the good work CPJ. In response to Saleh, I smell a rat by the name of Ali Abdu, Yemane Monkey or one of those psychopaths pretending to be someone else. The gig is up. No more fooling around for you folks. We know who's who by now. We've have 18 years of your bondage, surely you can't expect to fool by with your "chameleonic" approach to politics any more.

Victory and power to the people of Eritrea!
Brighter days will come, don't lose hope.

Ali Seid Abdellah June 3, 2009 11:54:52 AM ET

I have watched the interview and this one man show is a pathetic, if not humorous. A few hilarious points that this man (I dread to call him by name), this "undercover billionaire" has made, get ready for this one:

1. First he says there is no such thing as free press anywhere in the world, hence the justification for the imprisonment of the journalists like Isaac. Then he goes back to shoot himself in the leg by saying, there is freedom of speech in the country. Under 10 minutes, he's already forgotten what he said. Absolutely pathetic. Surely he must be high on something.

2. Here comes my favourite one. When asked about democracy and elections, he generously suggests that Europe should bid to get the Saudi Kingdom to hold elections. Could he be suggesting that he's now the king? Perhaps he has royal blood in him and is a descendant of the Emperor Haile Sellasie, which beggars belief as to why he's ruling on the wrong side of the borders.

You just can make this stuff up. The world is either too blind or just doesn't give a monkey about what happens to Eritrea and the region. One thing I seem to agree with him on though in placing the blame on the CIA however different my reasons may be. I feel I speak on behalf of the entire population when I say "someone" needs to take him out.

You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but you bet your life you can teach him to roll over and play dead!

Enough said.

John,

I think the man needs help, he is lost. I admired him for his leadership during struggle for independence; there was a goal that united all Eritreans and he has done commendable work in organizing the people for that goal. The people were roots of the struggle.
But he miscalculated that implementing the constitution will allow him to stay in power maximum two terms (5 yrsx2= 10 years). He is power greedy, wants the chair for his life time. He ignited unnecessary war with Ethiopia. He ignored advices of his long-time comrades, to his surprise; the outcome of the war with Ethiopia was opposite to his expectation. Ethiopia won the war; Eritrea lost it. Both should take the blame here for going through unnecessary war. However, Ethiopians were smart to learn from their mistakes and started mending seriously their ways. The man pursued the ill-fate. He started fighting against the reality. Don’t get surprised if he tells you “Eritrea is better than Sweden”, this is sickness.
Time has proved that the guy has only one expertise, igniting war and enmity between brotherly peoples.
My advice to the Swedish and other reporters is that you interviewed a wrong person; he doesn’t represent the Eritrean people. It is natural that he, like his predecessor dictators, will collapse soon.

I was appreciated with time to perceive the inquiries the Swedish journalists bestowed upon our president, Isais Afowerki. I am so astonished in his ignorance of bliss regarding the lives of Eritrean journalists. I perceive President Afowerki's enactments towards Eritrea's democracy earlier in the days of Ethiopian tribulations. How can someone be fighting for rights and freedom when they do not bestow that upon their own people? I do not abide to the perception that he is a martyr. Instead, he is no different than any other ruthless, ignorant, as well as unintelligent leader.

Go Isayas

We all know the majority of Eritreans are behind you like a rock because we want to be free from the West -Forever- and we love our country. It is funny to see how this fake journalists misinterpret the interview and want us make to believe their lies.
Mohamed Keita we Eritreans don't know you or your agendas but we know our great Leader since long long time now and we stand behind him because he stands for Eritrea and their people and the rest of Africa. Mohamed Keita you start with Isayas being the leading jailer of journalists ,where are the facts? ,where did you get it? I bet you don't even know and you call yourself journalist. that's a joke no you are a joke. And about Dawit Isaac again we Eritreans know why that guy is in prison and we know that all you guys dont give a damn about him , for he is just a tool for your agendas. LONG LIVE ERITREA ,ITS GOVERNMENT , ITS PEOPLE and OUR GREAT LEADER

Re: Dan.

Your ignorance and stupidity baffles me. You are probably one of those glory hunters who go on biting the hand that feeds you. People like you are those living in the west because you claimed asylum alleging that the Eritrean government mistreated you only to come back to blame the west of fiddling with Eritrea's internal affairs. You need to get some hard facts through that thick head of yours. First all, people are dying in Eritrea. I should know because I'm an Eritrean and I have lost loved ones. Journalists and politicians alike that question your president's authority remain jailed indefinitely. In fact some of them have died in prison and that's a fact. The country is at its worst stage ever economically. The Eritrean currency has hit rock bottom as a result of the government's corrupt attitudes. No imports, no exports, no foreign investment, no food, no gas, the list goes on. Instead, you come in here and brag about "we Eritreans this" and "we Eritreans that". It's one thing to be proud of your heritage, but another to turn a blind eye to the pain and sufferings of the people.

It's foolish of people such as yourself to buy into all that "the CIA is on our case" crap that is being fed by your "president". I keep referring to him as your president and not mine because I did not elect him to power. He helped himself to it. I am proud of my Eritrean heritage though.

Wake up and stop feeding to this load of rubbish. Your arrogance will be your downfall.

Thank u Mohamed. You did a good job.

As some one said it clearly everything this man does or says is so hilarious ...I think he is kind of envyin wedi gebeya (but with stupid lies - wedi gebeya's ideas are serious and fact).

And some times you feel like sad and stupid when people make fun of him or his comments. Is this what we Eritreans (when we have many literate individuals all over the world) what we really deserve. I dont think so...I cant tell u how ashamed i become when i see him do the interviews. He is just pathetic.

God bless Erirea and its true people!

Jack

He is unbeleivable.....that is all I can say..............!!!!!

Dearest brothers and sister in and out eritrea, aselam waliekum werahmetollah weberekatu. first this government not elect government he is shifta, what do you expect from him, to say or to do, wedini always wedini, better the true wedini they know what to say egnorance fulish,dom the flowers and leaders in his government they must count what they did to our kids and our our people, our country, I don't know what kind evils sourand him, to shame to have this dom government to lead our eritrea country, our people deserve the best leader. so allah help us and our country for change fast once for all. so please our young the true eritreans millitary stand up and stop him before too late. we don't wont onother Rawanda or somalia
allah help us and our country eritrea ain.

yours fatma anahdawia. counda

fatma abdurashid June 11, 2009 1:47:40 PM ET