Born 2 February 1946
President of the Republic of Eritrea since 19 May 1993
Predator since 18 September 2001, the day he suddenly eliminated his political rivals,
closed all privately-owned media and jailed outspoken journalists
Eritrea, 180th/180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index
PREDATORY METHOD: Paranoid totalitarianism
The least attempt to question or challenge the regime is regarded as a threat to “national security.” There are no more privately-owned media, only state media with Stalinist editorial policies. Journalists are regarded as enemies. Some have died in prison, others have been imprisoned for the past 20 years in the most appalling conditions, without access to their family or a lawyer. According to the information RSF has been getting for the past two decades, journalists may have been held in metal containers, directly exposed to unbearable heat, tortured and deprived of water and medical care. In Eiraeiro prison, where those still held are reportedly located, a chilling message written over an interrogation room says: “If you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.” Asked in 2009 whether Dawit Isaak, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality held since 2001, might be put on trial or released, President Afwerki replied: “We know how to deal with him and others like him and we have our own ways of dealing with that.”
FAVOURITE TARGETS: All outspoken journalists
Journalists who don’t toe the official line or who try to reflect the reality of life in Eritrea are systematically persecuted and silenced. There are no longer any independent journalists and media. Those who have avoided imprisonment have changed profession or have left the country. Dozens have journalists have either died in detention, committed suicide, gone missing or fled abroad.
OFFICIAL DISCOURSE: Complete denial
“There have never been any imprisoned journalists. There aren’t any. You are misinformed.” (Al-Jazeera interview, May 2008).
“Again, another lie. It is compromising your credibility as a media outlet. And coming up with a pack of lies and trying to convince anyone by putting them as facts on the ground and trying to give the impression that these are things that exist in the real world." (Al-Jazeera interview, February 2010).