January 30, 2008 (NAIROBI) — Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday called for an African Union summit to condemn Eritrea and impose sanctions, after releasing a report claiming mistreatment of prisoners there.
“The leaders attending the three-day African Union summit that begins on 31 January must not turn a blind eye to the fact that the Eritrean government acts with extraordinary cruelty towards all those it regards as a potential threat to its survival,” the Paris-based group said in a statement.
The report, which quotes a source that the group said must remain anonymous for protection, provides details of the top secret prison complex of Eiraeiro in central Eritrea.
“The prisoners are kept day and night under the light of an electric bulb and in complete isolation,” it claimed. “Some are manacled by the feet or hands.”
Prisoners are tortured, the report added, with one message written on a door of an interrogation room reading: “Did you see who died before you?”
At least nine prisoners have died in Eiraeiro — a heavily-guarded desert jail with a surrounding minefield — in the past two years, according to RSF reports.
The group called on other foreign powers, including the European Union, to “adopt targeted sanctions” against those responsible for the prison and condemn the situation in the Red Sea state it rates as the world’s worst violator of press freedom.
Eritrea ordered a wave of arrests and a media crackdown in 2001 after prominent politicians and independence war veterans signed a petition calling for democracy in the Horn of African country.
Since then, hundreds of government opponents have been held in brutal conditions such as Eiraeiro prison, including at least 12 journalists, the organisation said.
Eritrean officials, who were not immediately available for comment, regularly dismiss such reports, accusing critics of lacking information to support their allegations.