The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech and press; however, the government severely restricted these rights in practice.
Freedom of Speech: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private. The government attempted to impede criticism.
Freedom of Press: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of the media and requires that documents be submitted to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all existing media, which included one newspaper, editions of which were published in Tigrinya, English, and Arabic; three radio stations; and a television station. Official media focused primarily on local issues, celebrations, descriptions of good moral practices, and profiles of national heroes.
The law requires journalists to be licensed. The government allowed satellite dishes. Their use was common in Asmara, Massawa, and other cities, and increasingly in the countryside, with the result that some persons in the country had access to a range of international cable television networks, including several from Ethiopia. Some of these were periodically jammed. A number of satellite radio stations run by diaspora Eritreans, including Radio Erena, based in Paris, attempted to reach listeners in the country. The government jammed this station in August and September. Persons could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.
Those who regularly publish materials must have permits. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication that does not have a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.
Violence and Harassment: According to Reporters Without Borders, the government continued to detain 28 journalists as well as others associated with the media. The government did not provide information about their locations or health.
In August authorities reportedly arrested and detained without charge journalist Ahmed Shek Umer, chief of Arabic programming on Eri-TV. On December 29, they announced his release at an earlier date.
Reporters Without Borders cited former detention center guards as having stated that journalists Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab, and Wedi Itay, who had been held in detention without trial since 2001, died at Eiraeiro detention camp, and another journalist who had been detained since 2009 died in Abi Abeito military prison. The exact dates of the deaths were not available but reportedly occurred in prior years.
There was no information available regarding journalists Nebiel Edris, Ahmed Usman, Mohamed Osman, and Tesfalidet Mebrahtu, whom authorities arrested in 2011.
Reporters Without Borders stated that authorities released Said Abdulhai, the former head of the Ministry of Information’s press department and the person responsible for the state newspaper. Authorities arrested him in 2010. Radio Bana staff member Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu, detained in 2009, reportedly was hospitalized.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or abroad, which effectively limited any domestic media criticism of the government. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal. Journalists were required to obtain government permission to take photographs.
Libel Laws/National Security: Although neither libel nor national security laws were used to prosecute persons, the government repeatedly asserted that national security concerns were at the root of limitations on free speech. Persons detained in relation to freedom of speech and press occasionally were held indefinitely without being brought to trial.
The government monitored some Internet communications, including e‑mail, without obtaining warrants. Internet users had a choice from among five service providers, some of which were government-owned. Internet cafes with limited bandwidth were available in Asmara and other major cities, but the vast majority of persons in the country did not have access to the Internet. According to the International Telecommunications Union, 6.2 percent of individuals used the Internet in 2011. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most persons in the country.
Government informants frequented Internet cafes during periods of unrest in nearby countries or when international media reported news about the country. In previous years some Internet cafes closed on short notice, and their owners were said to have been detained on grounds of circulating pornography, although many believed that the cafes had facilitated access to opposition Web sites of the diaspora. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition Web sites by labeling the sites and their developers saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.
The government became more sophisticated in disseminating information via the Internet, and a number of progovernment sites competed with opposition sites.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.
The government scrutinized activities at private secondary schools and, in some cases, denied visas to foreign teachers arbitrarily or presented impediments to proper administrative functioning. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered as a result of disputes between government officials and school administrators.
With few exceptions, secondary school students spent their last high school year at the Sawa military and educational camp. Students had to complete military training at Sawa (or receive a medical or other waiver) before being allowed to take entrance exams for institutes of higher education. Authorities assigned those who took entrance exams to courses of study based on exam results instead of being allowed to choose their own educational paths.
The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. Some persons claimed that authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.
The government censored, canceled, or closed films and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and citizen users. The government directly sponsored most cultural events.