(Published in Al-Jazeera English; September 18, 2017)

Eritrea’s transformation into a police state started with a ban on independent media 16 years ago today.

By demolishing the independent media, ceaselessly recycling tired propaganda, and introducing pervasive censorship, Afwerki has created a grim state, writes Zere [Reuters]

People who haven’t experienced Eritrea’s descent into totalitarianism first hand cannot truly understand what daily life looks like there. Even the infamous labels associated with the country – such as “most censored” country on Earth or the bottom-ranked nation on the Press Freedom Index for 10 consecutive years – do not help understand Eritrea’s day-to-day reality. 

So let me share my first-hand experience.

Exactly 16 years ago, on September 18, 2001, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and his clique banned seven independent newspapers and imprisoned 11 of the most senior government officials. 

That “Black Tuesday” was the start of Eritrea’s transformation into the police state that it is today. Before this happened, despite various challenges, Eritrean independent media briefly had created space for open discussion, even providing a forum for dissident political leaders.

Exactly 16 years ago, on September 18, 2001, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and his clique banned seven independent newspapers and imprisoned 11 of the most senior government officials. 

That “Black Tuesday” was the start of Eritrea’s transformation into the police state that it is today. Before this happened, despite various challenges, Eritrean independent media briefly had created space for open discussion, even providing a forum for dissident political leaders.

Crushing dissent

The first official response to the promising signs of a vibrant press and open political forums in Eritrea came in early September 2001 when President Afwerki appointed Naizghi Kiflu as minister of information. Kiflu had acquired a bad reputation for being a brutal and merciless commander during the struggle for independence. He had served as chief of the infamous military prison then called the Revolutionary Guard. Never shy about his dark past, in his first meeting with the ministry’s staff members and journalists, Kiflu reminded them that he had been “a cruel cadre and ex-chief of the Revolutionary Guard”.

After banning private newspapers and ordering a swift wave of arrests, the minister circulated an order to Eritrea’s printing houses to immediately cease printing any material, including wedding invitations and nightclub posters. 

Thus, began the country’s steady descent into the abyss. Click here to read the article

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(First published in Arteidolia; March 2016)

Why jail a poet?” asks Randee Silv as she discusses the case of Qatari poet Mohammed Ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, who had been targeted by the tyrannical rule of his country. [Fortunately the poet was later released.]

Why do tyrants jail poets? The answer is simple: they can’t stand any deviation from their prescribed world outlook. Characteristically, all dictatorial regimes become increasingly intolerant of any sound, image or phrase that reveals even the slightest hint of defiance.

Let me elaborate on this in the context of Eritrea, my homeland.

To set the scene: Eritrea is listed as the last country (No. 180) on Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index and the most censored country on the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s 2015 list. It “is the least connected country on earth”; only 1 percent of Eritreans have access to the Internet (and even then, with a very slow dial-up connection). In addition, Eritrea is the “worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa,” and the world’s worst abuser of due process” according to CPJ. Many journalists have been incarcerated incommunicado for more than 14 years.Continue reading

 

(First published in Arteidolia; June 2016)

yonaton1

Predictably, Eritrea has hit the bottom list (#180), two years in row, in World Press Freedom Index in a report compiled by Reporters Without Borders. Compounding to the absolute information control and monotonous recycling of propaganda are centralization of the arts or abating independent artists through ubiquitous censorship. Enough has been written about the media and centralization of information; therefore, I will share my firsthand account of how the body of arts and censorship operate.Continue reading