ARTICLE 19 urges world leaders to demand strong human right commitments from Eritrea, including ensuring media freedom in the country and removing draconian restrictions to the right to freedom of expression that stifle dissent as the country. The call comes as the country undergoes its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, a process by which human rights in all UN Member States are assessed on a rolling basis.
“Eritrea has fallen off the world’s agenda. For too long, the international community have remained silent, while a repressive regime rules with an iron fist” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE Eastern Africa.
“Systematic human rights violations in the country must be addressed. African members of the human rights council should push others to secure concrete commitments from Eritrea to improve the dire human rights situation in the country, which crucially includes the right to freedom of expression. Where censorship reigns, people are not able to advocate for other fundamental rights” added Maina.
In 2001, all independent newspaper in Eritrea were forced to close and at least eighteen journalists and eleven former government officials were detained without charge or trial. Of these detainees, eight are confirmed to have died in custody. Radio and television stations have also been forced to close and broadcasters imprisoned. The whereabouts of many of those detained is still unknown. The remaining media outlets in the country are state owned and serve as a mouthpiece for the Ministry of Information.
ARTICLE 19 urges the Eritrean government to seize the chance offered during the UPR to make commitments aimed at improving freedom of expression in the country, including:
- Committing to unconditionally releasing all journalists who remain in prison, and afford them adequate redress for their arbitrary detention.
- Confirm the names of all detainees, reveal where they are being kept and report on their health condition, including confirming any deaths that have occurred in detention.
- Immediately initiate prompt and effective investigations into any deaths that have occurred.
- Take swift and effective action to bring those responsible for violence against journalists and human rights defenders to justice.
“For more than decade the authorities have had absolute control of the media and done everything they can to prevent the spread of internet. The people of Eritrea have been forcefully fed on a diet of state propaganda and denied news and ideas from the outside world” said Maina.
When Eritrea last underwent UPR 4 years ago, the government failed to make any commitment to releasing imprisoned journalists and did not respond to questions about the fate of journalists and human rights defenders in detention. While Eritrea did say it would consider allowing UN experts to visit the country, both the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea (Sheila Keetharuth) and the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Freedom of Expression (Frank La Rue) have been repeatedly refused entry.
In its individual submission to the Universal Periodic Review, ARTICLE 19 noted that the targeted persecution and imprisonment of journalists and human rights defenders has continued with impunity. It also noted that the foreign media has been banned on reporting from the country and all external transmissions have been blocked.