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7/21/03 - ERITREAN REPRESSION OF THE PRESS - 2003-07-22


The Eritrean government has detained Voice of America correspondent Aklilu Solomon. The Eritrean government claims this was because he did not perform obligatory military service or its civilian equivalent. In fact, documents show that Mr. Aklilu did perform eighteen months of national service and had a medical deferment for military service.

The real reason for his arrest appears to be a news story he filed for the Voice of America on June 23rd. He reported that families of Eritrean soldiers killed in the 1998 to 2000 war with Ethiopia wept in sorrow when the names of their dead relatives were announced. This contradicted Eritrea's state-run media, which claimed that the families cheered with pride at the news. After the V-O-A broadcast, Eritrean authorities stripped Mr. Aklilu of his press credentials. Ten days later, they detained him. He is now being held in an Eritrean military camp.

David Jackson, Director of the Voice of America, issued a strong protest against Eritrea's treatment of Aklilu Solomon. “He has distinguished himself as a journalist by telling the world of the urgent needs of the Eritrean people during the drought which has afflicted his country,” said Mr. Jackson. “All of us at [V-O-A] are proud of his contributions. . . . We demand that Eritrean authorities free him immediately.”

Adam Posluns [pose-luhns] of the Committee to Protect Journalists says the detention of Aklilu Solomon is part of a pattern of repression and harassment:

"It is further evidence of the Eritrean government's determination to silence all reporting that differs from the official version of events. And it’s not the first time the government has used the pretext of mandatory national service to arrest journalists who have written reports that are not to the authorities’ liking. With Aklilu's arrest, there are almost no more independent sources of information in the country."

Aklilu Solomon’s only offense appears to be doing what good reporters do -- accurately reporting the news. That's the kind of national service the people of Eritrea need more of.

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