“PEN International acknowledges that it is of primary importance to be permanently committed to creating conditions that can lead to ending conflicts of all kinds. There is neither freedom without peace, nor peace without freedom; social and political justice is inaccessible without peace and freedom”.
Freedom of speech is one of the fundamental human rights based on natural universal laws which raise a lot of crucial questions in bouncing the history and politics of Eritrea. Nowadays, it is a fashionable argument to hear that the freedom of expression got started in Eritrea with British Occupation of 1940’s as private newspapers began to emerge. Nonetheless, this argument does not put into consideration the classical nature and means of freedom of expression through which the people used to express their feelings, ideas, views and arguments in their own manners. The most popular mode of expression in Eritrea societies contained poetry, “MaSe”, songs, folklore, and proverbs, commonly utilized either to substantiate ideas or bring a potential criticism to what they believed not right or ethical. In fact the content and character of those expressions were highly impacted by the origin, tradition, belief and history of the different ethnic groups that exist in Eritrea. Later the foundation and fabric of those traditions, customs and rituals were partly affected by the rules of colonization and consecutive governments’ policies.
Eritrea, a former Italy colony, was federated with Ethiopia in 1952; and established its own a semi-democratic government structures under the Ethiopian crown. Nevertheless, the flourishing freedom of expression and other basic civil rights were systematically dismantled by the Emperor of Hailesselase of Ethiopia, which flogged students and workers to conduct demonstrations; and few years later the peaceful movement was transformed into an armed struggle for independence (1961-1991). The struggle was more centralized, militarized and secretive in its disposition which did not tolerate to accommodate diversity of ideas or views which increasingly weakened the culture of advanced dialogue, discussion and debate among citizens who joined the armed struggle in particular and the society at large. The right to criticize was only confined to low military ranked personnel, but attempting to challenge the leadership would face obvious castigations such as rehabilitation, imprisonment or possibly vanishing.
Most of the time, it is not a common phenomena that a military institution to practice a democratic style of leadership to govern its army members. It often uses an authoritative and violent technique to fulfill their mission. After conducting army resistances for independence, most of African countries have striven to introduce a decent civilian administration; and began to embrace and practice common principles of international laws and norms so as to integrate their people into international community. However, the Government of Eritrea, largely baked by former army veterans, has failed to set up a successful civilian administration which enables the system to build a wider diplomatic relations with regional and international forces. It totally monopolized the power of the state by exclusion, intimidation, torturing and jailing political dissidents, who attempted to challenge its policy, program or ideology. The most disastrous episodes that have impeded the political transformation of the country are: subjugation of the arm veteran demonstration (1993); shooting disabled arm veterans (1994); and imprisoning of G-15 (political reformists), journalists and university students (2001).
In 2001 the government banned all private newspapers which eradicated the values of freedom of expression; access to information; and ethical and professional standards in journalism. It began nurturing “Media Cadres” instead of building a responsible human power, based on solid values, ethics and principles of journalism in maintaining the interest of the public. Those active “Media Cadres” played a great role in politicizing the ordinary people with political sentiment of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) to gain narrow personal interests or to avoid irreversible risks that could possibly come from government authority. In Eritrea most of the critical, responsible and professional journalists are usually discouraged, demoted, excluded, intimidated or jailed, but few, who decide to serve the system, enjoy a quite significant privilege and promotion at the cost of others. The nation lacks genuine journalists; and the industry is largely overwhelmed by political guardians who make the profession to become fluid.
To be Continued …