Leadership: President Isaias Afewerki, in power since 1993.
How censorship works: The government shut down all independent media in 2001. Eritrea is the worst jailer of journalists in sub-Saharan Africa, with at least 16 journalists behind bars as of December 1, 2018; most have been imprisoned since the 2001 crackdown, and none received a trial. According to freedom of expression group Article 19, the 1996 press law includes a requirement that the media must promote “national objectives.” The state retains a legal monopoly of broadcast media, and journalists for the state media toe the government’s editorial line for fear of retaliation. Alternative sources of information such as the internet or satellite broadcasts of radio stations in exile are restricted through occasional signal jams and by the poor quality of the government-controlled internet, according to DW Akademie. Internet penetration is extremely low, at just over 1% of the population, according to the U.N. International Telecommunication Union. Users are forced to visit internet cafes, where they are easily monitored. A March 2019 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa suggests that the authoritarian state is so “brutal or commanding” as to “render ordering overt internet disruptions unnecessary.” However, on May 15, 2019, the BBC reported a social media shutdown in Eritrea, ahead of the country’s Independence Day celebrations. With the opening of the border with Ethiopia in mid-2018, some foreign journalists received special accreditation to visit Eritrea, according to The Economist, but access was tightly controlled.
Lowlight: As many as seven journalists may have perished in custody, according to reports that CPJ has not been able to confirm due to the climate of fear and tight state control. The government has refused all requests to provide concrete information on the fate of imprisoned journalists. In June 2019, more than 100 leading African journalists, scholars, and rights activists wrote an open letter to Afewerki, asking to visit long-imprisoned journalists and activists; this request was soundly rejected, and deemed “inappropriate” by Eritrea’s Ministry of Information.Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on July 16, 2018. A recent thawing of relations between the two countries did not lead to improved conditions for the media in Eritrea. (Reuters/Tiksa Negeri)