A decade ago Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki shut down his country's independent press, and arrested 21 journalists and politicians. He's detained many more of his citizens without trial since then. With no free media left to report on their fate, news of the prisoners has been hard to come by, but the ten-year anniversary of their disappearance has brought renewed calls by international NGOs for their release.
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki may have been in power for a mere 18 years, but he could teach some of the longer-standing leaders around the continent a thing or two about running a dictatorship. Today, Eritrea is the only country in Africa not to have any free media: all the outlets belong to the government. And that's no exaggeration, as the Committee to Protect Journalists elaborates: "No independent press is now functioning in Eritrea. There are three newspapers, three radio stations, and two television stations in the country. All of them are owned, operated, and controlled by the government, functioning under the tight umbrella of the Ministry of Information".
Back in the 18th century Thomas Jefferson said: "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter". But Afewerki has clearly chosen the former route for Eritrea.
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Theresa Mallinson has lived and worked as an itinerant writer, subeditor and sometimes teacher, plying her trade in such exotic destinations as Vaduz, Dubai, and Cape Town. But that's all changed since she became a journalist at the Daily Maverick (www.thedailymaverick.co.za) and managing editor at Free African Media. For now, she's very happy to be living in Jozi. Follow her on Twitter at @tcmallinson and contact her on email@example.com.
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