International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists: 2 November 2014
In a land where the right to freedom of expression and information is heavily curtailed, I sought to interview three exiled Eritrean journalists and allow them the space to freely express what they cannot in their country.
Why did you choose to become a journalist?
*Aman: “I used to be a development worker; I was taken to prison camps and three times I saw people tortured and killed. I started to write stories and post articles on what was happening…I became a journalist by accident – all I wanted to do was contribute to justice”.
Since Eritrea’s “liberation” from Ethiopia in 1991 and its international recognition as an independent sovereign state in 1993, the country gradually evolved into a nation rife with human rights abuses. Notably, the systematic attack on dissent of any form resulting in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indefinite incommunicado detentions.
What does freedom of expression mean to you?
Aman:” It is a symbol of democracy- the flow of information without fear or restrictions – the means to freely enlighten and educate”.
18 September 2001 was coined as the Eritrean government’s ‘Crackdown’ on all independent media, when it banned the entire private press by shutting down media houses. It also marked the end of dissenting voices at the political level. Eighteen journalists, as well as eleven political leaders were rounded – up and imprisoned incommunicado without trial. Their whereabouts are still unknown till today. Since then, more than 70 journalists have been detained at different periods in time.
The recent arrest and imprisonment of The Nation magazine editor, Bheki Makhubu and Thulani Maseko, a human rights lawyer and the magazine’s columnist for contempt of court, while shocking the world, has exposed the government’s malevolent desire to suppress freedom of expression and crash dissent.
The two, who were arrested after publishing articles questioning the detention without trial of a government vehicle inspector, have subsequently been sentenced to an effective two years in prison.
Swaziland’s Constitution of 2005 clearly provides for freedom of expression in section 24. It stipulates that every person has a right of freedom of expression and opinion. Harassment, torture, incarceration of journalists or any other attempts to suppress free speech is a violation of this constitutionally guaranteed right.
The incarceration of the two is not an isolated incident but rather a highlight of the repressive regime’s longstanding intention to suppress freedom of expression. To understand Swaziland’s lack of freedom of expression it is important to look into the country’s media landscape. The government has maintained a tight grip on the media so as to control the information being disseminated while the few ‘independent’ media outlets have been constantly attacked leading to unprecedented levels of self-censorship.