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JOURNALIST DIES FLEEING CRACKDOWN ON PUBLIC MEDIA

One of nine journalists arrested in a November 2006 crackdown on Eritrean public media has died while attempting to flee the country in June, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF). Two others of the nine have been re-arrested.

RSF and CPJ say Paulos Kidane, a journalist with the Amharic-language service of state-owned Eri-TV and radio Dimtsi Hafash (Voice of the Broad Masses), died in June. He and seven other Eritreans had attempted to walk to Sudan, but Kidane, suffering from exhaustion and epilepsy, did not make it. CPJ says it is unclear if he died after being taken into custody again.

Kidane was one of nine public media journalists arrested in November 2006, after several prominent state media journalists defected. The nine were arrested on suspicion of having contact with the defectors or planning to flee the country themselves. The government of President Issaias Afeworki generally regards attempting to flee Eritrea as treason, RSF says.

"We were beaten and tortured in prison for refusing to give the passwords to our e-mail accounts," Kidane told RSF after his release. "In the end we cracked because the pain was too much."

All nine except Daniel Musie of Dimtsi Hafash's Oromo-language service were eventually released on bail. But they remained under surveillance, their phones were tapped, and they were forbidden to leave Asmara, the capital.

Earlier in June, RSF said a woman journalist employed by state television -- another of the nine arrested in November -- was being held in a military camp. Fathia Khaled, a presenter on Eri-TV's Arabic-language service, was arrested after being in touch with one or more persons who had fled to Sudan, a source said.

On 6 June, RSF reported that Eyob Kessete, a third member of the November nine, had been arrested trying to enter Ethiopia. Kessete, a journalist with Dimtsi Hafash's Amharic-language service, was shut in a metal container in the May Srwa detention centre.

Eritrea's hundreds of political prisoners include at least 13 journalists held without trial, incommunicado and in unknown locations, since September 2001. RSF believes at least four of them have died in detention. In March, two other information ministry personnel were arrested: Ibrahim Abdella, a music archive employee at "Eri-TV", and a news archive employee.

Visit these links:
- RSF on Kidane: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22839
- CPJ on Kidane: http://www.cpj.org/news/2007/africa/eritrea10july07na.html
- RSF's 2006 report on Eritrea (excerpt): http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/4461/6/
- Reuters on Fathia Khaled (includes a government response): http://tinyurl.com/2xsvm7 /
- RAP21 (African Press Network): http://www.rap21.org/article19073.html?var_recherche=eritrea
- IFEX Joint Action (April): http://www.ifex.org/fr/content/view/full/82552/
(10 July 2007)

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