News / Africa

Eritrea President Denies Stifling Free Speech

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki (File)
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki (File)
VOA News
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has denied that his country stifles freedom of speech, just days after media rights group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) identified Eritrea as the most censored country in the world.

Listen to VOA's interview with President Isaias

In an interview with VOA's English to Africa service Thursday in the capital, Asmara, President Isaias said his government is not interested in keeping people from expressing their views, but that he will do what is necessary to "protect national security" in the face of what he calls "external aggression" by those who take money from outside governments to create chaos and spread misinformation.

"This is not a matter of freedom of expression, this is a matter of sabotage -- organized sabotage by individuals hired by intelligence agencies from outside," said Isaias. "We've even ignored some of these individuals who have been working with foreign governments, taking money, providing distorted information about the reality here."

In its annual survey, CPJ referred to the east African nation as "completely closed" to foreign journalists, saying only tightly controlled state media are allowed to operate there.

It also said journalists suspected of sending information outside the country have been thrown into prison without charges and are often held for extended periods of time without access to family or a lawyer.

In his wide ranging interview with VOA, Isaias said he has succeeded in building up Eritrea's infrastructure and decreasing its reliance on foreign aid in the nearly 20 years since he came to power in the impoverished East African nation.

Regarding the disputed border between Eritrea and neighboring Ethiopia, Isaias denied any tension and said he wants to work in cooperation with Ethiopia to create new opportunities for people in both countries.

"There are no controversies there," he said. "We look at it from a historical perspective. We aspire to -- in solidarity with the people in Ethiopia -- to create a new opportunity for both the people in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the region as a whole."

Isaias, who has ruled Eritrea since 1993, said he is more interested in building up his country than embracing what he called the "so-called" tenets of democracy.

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Comments page of 2
by: Anonymous
May 19, 2012 11:32 PM
Excellenet views on IGAD and Regional cooperation in the Horn and East Africa.

To speak on behalf of the people of Eritrea, he needs to implelemt the 1997 constitution and get elected democratically by the people of Eritrea in a fair and transparent multiparty contest

by: jon from: maryland
May 19, 2012 7:58 PM
very nice interview with smart answers by isaias. good job issayas!

by: tafesse from: usa
May 19, 2012 1:07 PM
Sad to hear president Isayas reiterating his outdated position of no dialogue with Ethiopia.He does not seem to be aware of the fact that the world is even talking to Taliban.He sounds determined to limp his old way down to his political demise.

by: swedish eritrean from: sweden
May 19, 2012 12:02 AM
optimist,, that is what free press means

by: Eritrean from: USA
May 18, 2012 7:22 PM
Mr. president Isaias my hats off to you i salute you,you have never compromised your prinsipless.We Eritreans sleep well knowing you will never sell us to the highest bidder.Thanks for being yourself & protecting our dignity.All the way with you brother.

by: Eritrean from: EU
May 18, 2012 7:15 PM
Dear VOA

Still another nonsense interview with the brutal dictator of Eritrea. The excuse for the problem in the Horn of Africa is not coming from other parts or countries but it starts from the president himself. The unelected presesident cannot govern even the small country except by military force, Eritrea is being governed under a total control of the ex-fighters who are loyal to the Isaias. They are govern the country in un humane way. I am not asking here 'democracy', it is unthinkable in Eritrea. But HUMANE WAY. When there is no right of speech, no right of association and so on in Eritrea, this man cannot say he is the real president of the coutry. He is not a LEADER, he is a RULER.
I wish all the best for the VOA journalist and when you are back to your office, I expect you to give your TRUE witness about Eritrea. If there is a psibility also to come to the 'Straight Talk Africa show, I am sure Shaka (the program hoster) would be happy to challenge the present situation in Eritrea.

by: Ambesa from: Sweden
May 18, 2012 5:26 PM
My god this Man was right from the start!

by: Tedros Asmelash from: London, UK
May 18, 2012 4:31 PM
The Dictator is at it again..boring as usual. Just go. Nobody is interested to hear what you have to say. Shame on you VOA for letting him run his mouth like that instead of asking him tough questions like why is he holding the country hostage, the 3000+ young people who are fleeing their country risking their life, all the political prisoners and journalists who are dying in an underground prisons all over the country. Mr Journalist, watch AlJeezera's Jane Datton Interviewing him and learn.

by: pessimist
May 18, 2012 3:34 PM
Correction: BBC's Peter Biles not VOA's.

by: Pessimist from: USA
May 18, 2012 3:25 PM
How are VOA reporters managing to speak to a President who has been rumored dead? How old is that picture? And what happened to the tell-tale signs of liver disease on his face? And above all, if he's indeed alive, when did his throat disease [esophageal cancer?] that VOA's Peter Biles expertly detected and tweeted about in late April go away?
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