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Allegations of Media Rights Violations Angers Eritrea

Eritrea's government has responded angrily to an appeal by a Paris-based media watchdog, urging the European Union to declare Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki persona non grata for violating human rights and restricting media freedom in the Horn of African country. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has the story from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

In a telephone interview with VOA, Eritrea's Acting Information Minister Ali Abdu said his government is not concerned about the accusations by the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders. He called the group "a tool used by foreign governments opposed to Eritrea to spread false information."

"They are simply an agent of intelligence organizations with a hidden agenda," he said. "They are not in a position to tell what should we do and what should we not do. They are simply trash."

The Eritrean president is expected to attend a two-day European Union-Africa summit that begins Saturday in Lisbon, Portugal.

Reporters Without Borders says the European Union should bar President Issaias and his aides, including Information Minister Abdu, from entering Europe as punishment for showing what the organization calls "contempt" for agreements they signed with the European Union earlier this year.

In May, the European Union gave Eritrea $179 million in financial aid in exchange for the government's promise to ease media restrictions and improve the country's human rights record.

Reporters Without Borders says since the Eritrean government launched a media crackdown in 2001, it has shown no willingness to respect human rights or the rule of law.

The organization says more than a dozen Eritrean journalists arrested six years ago are still being held in secret locations without any contact with the outside world. Four of the journalists have reportedly died in prison camps where conditions are said to be appalling.

On Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders chose jailed Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye as Journalist of the Year to highlight what it termed the catastrophic state of press freedom in that country.

The Eritrean government has repeatedly accused the media watchdog of meddling in its internal affairs.