Reporters Without Borders calls on the European Union to condition additional aid to Eritrea via the European Development Fund (EDF) on a significant improvement in fundamental freedoms, including freedom of information.
The EDF is the main instrument for EU development assistance. Under the 11th EDF, the EU’s Eritrean “partner” is to get renewed funding although it continues to flout freedom of expression and information, and human rights in general.
An Italian delegation that visited Eritrea from 24 to 26 March met with President Issayas Afeworki, his political adviser Yemane Ghebreaben, and several ministers. Ghebreaben assured the delegation that Eritrea would carry out democratic reforms “in its own way” during the next three to five years.
Such promises have been made in the past without any significant improvements ever being seen. The Eritrean authorities continue to be inflexible as regards the detention of political prisoners, including many journalists, claiming that high treason and national sovereignty issues are involved.
“It is astounding that the European Union provides Issayas Afeworki’s regime with so much aid without seeking anything in return in the areas of human rights and freedom of expression, although Eritrea’s constitution guarantees the right to free speech,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.
“This country, which has never had democratic elections, is subject to a single man’s will. How can the European Union, which defends the rule of law and democratic values, support such a regime? While it is important to maintain a dialogue, there is a limit to how far you can go in accommodating a dictatorship that does not keep its promises".
“Wouldn’t it be in the EU’s own interest, as the recent deaths of hundreds migrants in the Mediterranean have reminded us, to encourage the development of a government that respects human rights and allows young Eritreans to see an alternative to a future of forced conscription of indeterminate duration?”
Kahn-Sriber added: “We call on the European Union to condition its funding on Eritrean government guarantees for more respect for human rights, including the release of imprisoned journalists who are political prisoners and authorization for media pluralism.”
Reporters Without Borders condemned the five-year EDF funding that the European Union awarded Eritrea in 2009 although the situation of political prisoners had worsened considerably and more journalists had been arrested.
Contrary to its repeated promises to improve respect for human rights, the Eritrean regime has become steadily more oppressive and, although a small country, detains more journalists than any other African nation.
Since closing down all privately-owned media outlets in 2001, the government has exercised complete control over news and information, repeatedly cracking down on independent journalism and trying to jam independent news radio broadcasts from outside the country.
The least critical opinion can lead to permanent incarceration without trial in unbearable conditions in one of the country prison camps. Of the 11 journalists arrested in 2001, at least seven have died or taken their own lives in detention.
Eritrea is ranked last in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index for the eighth year running.
(Photo: Italian Deputy foreign minister Lapo Pistelli in Asmara with President Afeworki)