H.E. Ms. Hanna Simon, Eritrea’s Ambassador to France
2 September 2015.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote yesterday to Eritrea’s ambassador in France responding to the accusations she made against RSF in a letter to the head of UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, in which she denied that three journalists – Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab and Wedi Itay – died in detention. RSF’s letter calls on the Eritrean government to provide evidence that these three journalists are still alive and urges the ambassador to give an interview on her government’s behalf to Radio Erena, a Paris-based independent radio station that broadcasts news and information to Eritrea.
H.E. Ms. Hanna Simon Ambassador
Embassy of the State of Eritrea 1 rue de Staël 75015 Paris, France
Paris, 1 September 2015
Dear Ambassador Simon,
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) was surprised by your letter of 1 June 2015 to Guy Berger, the director of the Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development at UNESCO, in which you questioned our information about the deaths in detention of Eritrean journalists Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab and Wedi Itay.
As an NGO that defends freedom of information, RSF submitted a detailed report in June 2013, when the UN Human Rights Council was examining the situation in Eritrea as part of the Universal Periodic Review.
In this report we said that, of the 11 journalists arrested in 2001, seven had died in prison. You are denying the deaths of three of them.
This claim by you prompts two questions on our part.
If we understand correctly, you are saying that the journalists Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab and Wedi Itay are still alive. If this is the case, can you provide their families and loved-ones with evidence of this? Because they have had absolutely no evidence of this for the past 14 years.
Secondly, does your claim mean that the Eritrean government recognizes the deaths in detention of the other four journalists – Medhanie Haile, Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Said Abdulkader and Fessehaye Yohannes – who were arrested in 2001?
RSF calls on the Eritrean government to finally allow the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea to visit Eritrea in order to examine the situation there at first hand. She has been seeking permission to carry out such a visit since her appointment but it has been systematically denied.
As regards your accusations about our organization, especially our supposed bias against Eritrea, you will see, if you look at our archives, that RSF has been condemning the media freedom violations in your country ever since the raids of September 2001 in which journalists were rounded up and imprisoned and all privately-owned newspapers were forced to close. RSF has no political opinion aside from its commitment to media freedom. It carries out this mandate strictly, taking no other considerations into account.
There are no independent media today in Eritrea. Government journalists live in terror of causing displeasure and being “punished.” You confuse Radio Erena, a plain-spoken media outlet that is always ready to report contrasting opinions, with an opposition radio station. Presumably this is because you are not used to a media landscape in which democratic practices are respected. Radio Erena’s journalists systematically try to obtain the comments and analyses of Eritrean government officials, but their requests are systematically refused. You can change that. Radio Erena’s journalists would be delighted to interview you and thereby enhance the reporting that you criticize.
I am at your disposal for any further questions you may have.
Christophe Deloire Secretary-general