Defiance Through Telephone

The NPR, a famous national public radio here in the US, broadcast a short piece on Eritrea. The story tells of how a group of dissident Eritreans are phoning Eritrea and calling citizens to passive resistance against government.

npr-news

As expected, pro-government groups were not impressed by such report.

TesfaNews, a pro-government news blog site promptly publishes a response titled NPR’s Racist Journalism Against Eritrea. They describe the NPR report as “highly offensive”. The story is “baggage of hearsay… concocted against Eritrea by certain quarters” who wish to hurt Eritrea which is “on the economic launch pad.” The writer concludes by saying that the NPR story is “unverifiable”. But I highly doubt he’s referring to the fact that Eritrea does not allow any journalists into the country, and hence unverifiable.

Sophia Tesfamariam, an Eritrean-American analyst , writer and proudly a die-hard advocate of the Eritrean government is not alone in her denunciation of the NPR report (or any report unfavorable to Eritrean government for that matter). Hash-tagging her tweet “NoMoreNPR4me” she tweets, “Eritrea will not be lynched by lazy racist self-serving media”

NoMore AFP 4me ?

AFP only recently published an article on these Eritrean activists, adding to the fury of pro-government groups.

telephone_afp

Rahel Weldeab, a top official at the Eritrean national youth Union, the NUEYS, is infuriated. In her opinion, the news article is “a whole new level of discrimination and stereotyping against a nation”.

In her (at least PG-rated) blog entry titled Telephone a weapon?, she explains in more than one way that these “futile attempts” are coordinated by people receiving “full political and financial support from them [Ethiopia]”. She adamantly argues that that these phone calls calling for non-violent resistance against the government are nothing but a foreign enemy’s ploy.

It doesn’t take much to understand that according to Rahel, responding to these calls would be collaborating with the enemy. No surprise that everyone she has spoken to inside Eritrea regarding these calls  assure her that they listened just for “entertainment” as “a thing to laugh about”.

In her defense, Rahel was more lenient on the journalists compared to others. She accuses them of being lazy.

But could there be a valid reason to challenge these reports? Why do all the facts that opposition and foreign media use come from sources outside the country? Why not just go to Eritrea and verify the story like normal people!? This is a fundamental question. And very easy to answer. Eritrea does not allow journalists inside the country. The ONLY voice coming from inside Eritrea is that of the government.

But this does not change anything in Rahel’s view, she is in fact well aware of this and writes, “saying that there isn’t an independent press inside to give the story…that’s a nonsense* excuse to lie about a people”. Unfortunately she did not expound how that is. Perhaps turning to a telephone interview she did with Al Jazeera in 2011 will clarify her logic better, journalist Derrick Ashong askes,

“We understand that since 2001 the free press was shut down in Eritrea. Is this true? And if it is then how do you have a nation that is reportedly free and do not have freedom of expression.”

her response:

“Yes in 2001 due to the political crisis that happened at that time, mind you this is just one year after the ceasefire of the border conflict. What traditionally may be known as freedom of press or different newspapers had to close down. But I don’t think we should limit the freedom of expression just through these newspapers. The people are able to express themselves in different forms, and there are different ways that… Different organizations, different groups are able to express themselves. They are able to write through the national newsletters, they have their own magazines and more importantly we have other traditional ways of communicating among ourselves, among the people within in Eritrea”

The mystery behind Eritrea

Any access to the country is almost impossible that in 2009, a team of Al Jazeera journalists decided to carryout a covert journalism with hidden cameras and disguising themselves as  tourists. They managed to capture some shots of the country and interview few people for their report: The mystery behind Eritrea.

In a recent high profile case, the government refused entry to a UN team that was supposed to assess human rights situation in Eritrea. Unless the UN Special Rapporteur, Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth, decides to go deep undercover the UN will have to depend on sources-not-inside-Eritrea.

Sadly, the UN Special Rapporteur decided to examine human rights issue from visiting neighboring countries. The team is supposed to release its preliminary findings on May 9th.

Business as usual–the Eritrean government and its supporters will be wondering why, why even the UN rely on the outside–lazy if not racist.

Conclusion

A five minute radio program that presented an Eritrean opposition activity is identified as “racist” and is treated as a proof that the entire NPR organization is conspiring against Eritrean government. A few Eritreans who dare to disagree and call for non-violent resistance have just proved themselves traitors working with the Enemy.

This speaks to the level of paranoia of Eritrean government. It also sheds light on what proof the government had when it accused Eritrean media in 2001 of treason and banned them all.