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)
Conditions for Eritrean journalists continued to be dismal in 2007, a year that was marked by tragedy, as several journalists who attempted to flee the country were arrested or killed. The constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and of the press, has been ratified but never implemented. Meanwhile, the 1996 Press Proclamation Law mandates that all media outlets must be owned by the government 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. Beginning in November 2006, the government launched a new crackdown, leading to the arrests of at least 9 journalists after several prominent colleagues had defected. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 14 journalists were imprisoned during 2007, and at least 1 prisoner—Fessehaye “Joshua” Yohannes, a respected journalist, poet, and playwright—reportedly died in detention. In June, Paulos Kidane, a prominent journalist with Eri-TV, died while attempting to flee across the border into Sudan. Many of the jailed journalists are being held incommunicado in undisclosed locations, without access to their families or the Red Cross. Numerous reports of torture have emerged, suggesting that for many journalists, incarceration is life threatening. Despite Eritrean legal guarantees, none of the journalists in prison have ever been brought to trial, and attempting to leave the country is considered treasonous and punishable by imprisonment or “forced disappearance.” As a result, virtually no independent journalists are able to live in Eritrea, and certainly none are able to work openly.
As bilateral relations with many Western countries, including the United States, continue to deteriorate, foreign journalists are not able to freely enter the country and are generally not welcome unless they agree to report favorably about the regime. Local correspondents for international news organizations such as the British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America face heavy restrictions; both local and foreign journalists are required to obtain permits to leave the capital, Asmara.
There is currently no independent or privately owned press. Only three newspapers, one television station, and one radio station operate, and all remain under state control. Journalists work under strict surveillance and severe pressure to report positively on government programs. The importation of foreign periodicals is forbidden, although the purchase of satellite dishes is permitted. The government requires all internet service providers (ISPs) to use government-controlled internet infrastructure and owns a large percentage of them. According to the U.S. State Department, the government restricts the bandwidth available to ISPs, thus hindering their ability to provide services. Authorities are believed to monitor e-mail communication, although internet use is extremely limited, with just under 2 percent of the population able to access this medium in 2007.