The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed the European Parliament resolution of 15 September in which the body called on Eritrea to “to lift the ban on the country’s independent press and to immediately release the independent journalists and all others who have been jailed simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression.”

The EU also said it was “shocked by the Eritrean Government’s continued refusal to provide any information about the prisoners’ situation, including the place of their detention and whether they are still alive.”

The next day, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton released a statement on behalf of the European Union, saying it was “deeply concerned that the Government of the State of Eritrea continues to violate its human rights obligations, under both domestic and international law.”

During the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, President Isaias Afwerki’s government launched an assault on practically all of the young nation’s critical voices, arresting hundreds of government opponents, shutting down every independent media outlet and arresting independent journalists on sight, all in the name of combating terrorism. The arrests were said to be motivated by an effort to eliminate political dissent ahead of elections, which were scheduled for December 2001 but subsequently cancelled without explanation. Those imprisoned include Swedish citizen Dawit Isaak.

Another group of journalists were arrested in November 2006, this time including many who worked for state media. Some were subsequently released, although they were followed and their phones were tapped; they were also forced to return to work and expressly forbidden from leaving the capital, Asmara, reports say.

Some of the journalists still in prison are believed to have died or to have committed suicide as a result of appalling prison conditions, according to reports.

“President Isaias Afwerki should immediately release all the journalists in prison in Eritrea because of their work.” said IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills. “To continue to keep these journalists in prison is a violation not only of their rights as journalists, but as human beings.”