Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
In an already inhibiting media environment, the situation for the Eritrean press deteriorated further in 2006 as the government tightened restrictions for foreign reporters traveling within the country. Eritrean law guarantees freedom of speech and of the press. However, the 1996 Press Law prohibits the establishment of private broadcast media outlets and foreign ownership of media and requires all newspapers and journalists to be licensed. It also stipulates that publications be submitted for government approval prior to release and prohibits reprinting articles from banned publications. Since a government ban on all privately owned media was imposed in September 2001, Eritrea remains one of the harshest environments worldwide for the press and is a leading jailer of journalists in Africa. Following the official ban, an unknown number of government critics were detained, including many journalists. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 13 journalists remained behind bars in 2006, with 2 more enduring prolonged forced labor euphemistically called “national service.” Many of the jailed journalists are being held incommunicado in undisclosed locations, without access to their families or the Red Cross. Most have been incarcerated since the crackdown in 2001, and despite Eritrean legal guarantees, they were never formally charged. In response to queries from a number of press freedom organizations, the president and senior government officials have accused the journalists of espionage and threatening national security, but they have declined to provide details or evidence in support of these accusations.
The tiny handful of local and foreign independent journalists who continue to operate in the country on behalf of international media are constantly harassed, detained, and threatened. In June 2006, the government tightened restrictions on foreigners seeking to travel inside the country. According to CPJ, the new restrictions were intended partly as a means of preventing foreign journalists from reporting outside the capital. The restrictions were imposed after Eritrea expelled several international aid groups that had provided food assistance in the countryside. An article in The Economist noted that the expulsions may be one way of “muzzling reports of any impending humanitarian disaster.”
There is currently no independent or privately owned press. Only three newspapers, one television station, and one radio station operate, and they all remain under state control. Journalists working for the state-owned media operate under strict surveillance and severe pressure to report positively on government programs. The importation of foreign periodicals is forbidden. The government requires all internet service providers (ISPs) to use government-controlled internet infrastructure and owns a large percentage of them; in addition, according to the U.S. State Department, the government restricts the bandwidth available to ISPs, thus hindering their ability to provide services. Internet use is extremely limited (just under 2 percent of the population was able to access it in 2006), and authorities are believed to monitor private e-mail communication.