World Press Freedom Day
Thirty-eight heads of state and warlords sow terror among journalists
Portrait of Issaias Afeworki, President, Eritrea - Press freedom predator
Freed from Ethiopian domination in 1991 and enslaved again in 2001 by Issaias Afeworki’s authoritarian lunacy, Eritrea has the distinction of being Africa’s youngest republic (until South Sudan’s creation) and at the same time governed by its most ruthless dictator. A former rebel chief and hero of Eritrea’s war of liberation, he makes no bones about his totalitarian tendencies. He believes a price must be paid for Eritrea’s independence. Basic freedoms were officially “suspended” ten years ago after ruling party dissidents started pressing for more democracy. Any hint of opposition is seen as a threat to “national security.” The privately-owned media no longer exist. There are just state media whose content is worthy of the Soviet era.
Ruled with an iron hand by a small ultra-nationalist clique centred on Afeworki, this Red Sea country has been transformed in just a few years into a vast open prison, Africa’s biggest jail for the media. Around 30 journalists are currently being held in prisons, undergrounds cells or metal containers. Four of them have died as a result of the extremely cruel conditions or committed suicide. Others have just disappeared. And others flee the country illegally, at risk to their lives. But when President Afeworki is asked about the imprisoned journalists, as he was by Al-Jazeera in May 2008, he replies: “There were never any. There aren’t any. You have been misinformed.”
Seven press freedom predators in Africa
Africa’s seven press freedom predators are Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki, Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Rwandan President Paul Kagamé, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Swaziland’s King Mswati III and Somalia’s Islamist militias (Al-Shabaab and Hizb-Al-Islam).
Read their portraits on the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org)
They are not the only enemies of press freedom in Africa but, more than any others, they embody the persecution of journalists and have a direct responsibility for the disturbing situation of the media in their countries.
Ogbonna Onovo has been dropped from the list because he is no longer Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police. The National Intelligence Agency (ANR) in the Democratic Republic of Congo came close to being included because of its arbitrary arrests of journalists and heavy-handed interrogations. Reporters Without Borders will continue to keep a close eye on the ANR during 2011, which is an election year and therefore a dangerous one for journalists.
The situation in some countries such as Sudan and Côte d'Ivoire has been extremely worrying without there being any one predator who stood out from the others.