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IPI concerned about ongoing detention of journalists, calls on aid donors to do more for human rights and press freedom

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 10 July 2007 IPI letter to European Commission President José Manuel Durão Barroso, World Bank President Robert Zoellick, and British Secretary of State for International Development Douglas Alexander:

H.E. José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
1049 Brussels
E-mail: [email protected]

H.E. Robert Zoellick
President of the World Bank
The World Bank
1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
Fax: +1-202 477-6391

H.E. Douglas Alexander MP*
Secretary of State for International Development
Department for International Development
1 Palace Street
London SW1E 5HE
United Kingdom
Fax: +44-207 023 0019

Vienna, 10 July 2007

Your Excellencies,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 110 countries, is writing to convey its concern regarding the ongoing detention of journalists in Eritrea.

Based on information provided to IPI, Eritrea is the largest jailer of journalists in Africa. Some of these journalists have been held since a September 2001 crackdown on the independent media, while around nine other journalists were detained in a series of arrests on 12 November 2006. The most recent arrests occurred after several leading journalists managed to flee from the country.

There are also reports, unconfirmed by the Eritrean government, that four journalists - Fessehaye "Joshua" Yohannes, Medhanie Haile, Yusuf Mohamed Ali and Said Abdelkader - have died in prison. In June, Paulos Kidane, a journalist with the Amharic-language service of state-owned Eri-TV and radio Dimtsi Hafash ("Voice of the Broad Masses"), died while trying to escape from the authorities by crossing into Sudan.

IPI views these events as a tragedy not only for press freedom and freedom of expression in Eritrea, but also for the wider Horn of Africa. The repression of journalists is symptomatic of the Eritrean government's appalling attitude towards democracy and a sign that it cares little for human rights.

When viewing the international response to this situation, IPI is concerned that more has not been done by Your Excellencies' organisations who have good contacts with the Eritrean government.

Indeed, IPI is disappointed that the collective good work on aid does not translate into attempts by Your Excellencies' organisations to convince the Eritrean government to release the imprisoned journalists whose only transgression was to have expressed their opinions.

IPI believes that the sometimes-visible divide between social and economic rights on the one hand and civil and political rights on the other is detrimental to the overall delivery of support and assistance. In the opinion of IPI, the two sets of rights are intrinsically linked and one set cannot be ignored in favour of the other.

Therefore, the plight of individuals in such cases should not be overlooked because to do so ensures the continued delivery of aid. Such an approach will only encourage repressive governments to believe that they can receive aid, while breaching international standards on human rights.

Although IPI accepts that there is no simple solution, in the past, it has welcomed the willingness of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) to incorporate a human rights dimension into its thinking on development issues and to freeze funding until progress has been made on this issue.

This approach is not a universal panacea; however, it sends a strong signal to repressive regimes that they can no longer continue to reap the benefits of dividing the international community along the lines of different sets of rights.

With this in mind, IPI calls on Your Excellencies to work together and with others in the international community to examine joint approaches that may convince governments to end their assault on human rights, particularly press freedom.

We thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,

Johann P. Fritz

NOTE: The letter has been amended to reflect that Douglas Alexander MP is now the Secretary of State for International Development

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