Received on behalf of Radio Erena by Fathi Osman, the special award has been given annually since 1988 to independent journalists covering politics, social issues or local culture in their own country, usually developing countries like Eritrea.
“It is great to have the award,” Osman said. “I feel really great because honouring Radio Erena is an honour for the voiceless and the journalists behind bars in Eritrea. It is a special day for Eritrean media."
In Paris, Radio Erena journalist Amanuel Ghirmai said: “On this occasion, I felt Radio Erena's voice won over ‘the fear,’ which is the Eritrean government’s preferred instrument for silencing its citizens. I am so proud of Radio Erena’s team for their fight to expose the realities in Eritrea and at the same time remain independent. I hope, one day Radio Erena will be able to broadcast from Asmara.”
Sole independent exile radio
There is no independent media outlet within Eritrea that covers what life is like for Eritreans and the political and social conditions in their country. Radio Erena is a unique entity that links Eritrean exiles and Eritrea, covering not only diaspora issues but also Eritrea’s history, what is happening there now and international developments.
Both Eritreans in Eritrea and the Eritrean diaspora worldwide can listen to hear Radio Erena’s impartial and professional news coverage. Broadcasting from Paris in Tigrinya and Arabic – the country’s two national languages – it is recognized by its people as the most reliable Eritrean radio station.
Its creation realized the dream of Biniam Simon, a well-known journalist with Eritrea’s state-owned national broadcaster Eri TV who fled Eritrea and arrived in France in 2007. He wanted to be able to exercise his profession freely and provide fellow Eritreans with independently reported news. Thanks to his perseverance and RSF’s support, he was finally able to launch Radio Erena (which means “Our Eritrea” in Tigrinya) in Paris in 2009.
Radio Erena’s reporting is produced by a team of four professional journalists based in Paris and a dozen correspondents throughout the world. Far from being an opposition mouthpiece, like other Eritrean exile radio stations, Radio Erena is committed to balanced news coverage.
But this has not stopped the regime from turning Radio Erena into a target of its propaganda and disinformation campaigns. The attacks on the radio station in 2012 (when its website was hacked and its satellite signal was jammed by a pirate transmission from within Eritrea) and the frequent attempts from within Eritrea to jam its shortwave signal, are all evidence of Radio Erena’s importance.
According to RSF’s tally, at least 15 journalists are currently detained in Eritrea, which means that President Isaias Afewerki’s dictatorship is Africa’s biggest prison for media personnel. Those held include Dawit Isaak, who was awarded UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Prize in March.
As a result of the terrible repression that began in 2001, thousands of Eritreans including dozens of journalists have had no choice but to flee their country. RSF tries to follow the cases of as many of the exile journalists as possible. Its support for Radio Erena is designed to combat the outside’s world tendency to forget this country and his population, of whom little account is taken by international institutions.
Eritrean is ranked second from last (179th out of 180 countries) in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.