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Thirty-eight IFEX member organisations, led by PEN Canada and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), have called on the Eritrean government to publicly account for the death of four journalists in custody and to unconditionally release all journalists remaining behind bars.

In an appeal to President Isaias Afwerki in IFEX's largest joint action to date, IFEX members said that "the human rights situation has deteriorated to such an extent that your country now ranks among one of the world's worst offenders."

Four independent journalists have reportedly died in prison in the past two years. Most recently, playwright and founding editor of the defunct popular weekly "Setit" Fessehaye (Joshua) Yohannes was found dead in a military prison in January. He was reportedly tortured while in custody since his arrest in 2001 - he was paralysed in one hand and had been walking with difficulty for years.

Other journalists who have reportedly died in custody are "Tsigenay" editor Yusuf Mohamed Ali (June 2006), "Keste Debene" editor Medhane Haile (February 2006), and "Admas" writer and editor Said Abdelkader (March 2005). But the Eritrean government has neither confirmed nor denied their deaths.

Ten state media journalists have also been detained - in a wave of arrests that began last November - on suspicion of maintaining contact with leading journalists who had fled the country, or of themselves trying to flee. Several of them remain in custody, although the exact number is not known.

In September 2001, President Isaias Afwerki cracked down on the opposition and independent media, closing all privately-owned newspapers in the capital Asmara, and arresting leading politicians and independence war veterans who had signed a petition calling for democracy.

In another development, two Eritrean journalists are still being held incommunicado after being captured along the Somalian border late last year along with more than 80 Somalis and foreigners, say Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and Amnesty International.

Journalist Saleh Idris Gama, from the Eritrean state-run Eri-TV, and cameraman Tesfalidet Kidane Tesfazghi, vanished in 2006 when covering fighting between the Council of Somali Islamic Courts (COSIC) and the Ethiopian troops supporting the transitional federal government in Somalia.

According to RSF, Eritrea was the third worst violator of free expression in 2006.

Visit these links:
- IFEX Joint Action:
- Eritrea Free Expression Spotlight:
- PEN Canada:
- RSF on journalists in Ethiopian jail:
- Amnesty International:
- RSF, Eritrea Annual Report 2007:
(17 April 2007)

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