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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by: Eritrea101
May 18, 2012 2:50 PM
This is a great interview and shows the wisdom of this president. Long live PIA!

by: fan256 from: earth
May 18, 2012 2:43 PM
Long live isaias afwerki and long live the eritrean people.

by: john poul
May 18, 2012 2:30 PM
dicatator issaya has become number one liar coz it has been long time hence he got exposed how he rules Eritrea and how he made it a big jial land just to satisfy his power mongerism, history has already catagirized him with josief stalin, hiteler , edi amin, gadaffi while he is still alive, dicatator issayas has got one uniqe from others he is CRUEL. we are fade up on his greedines of power at the cost of the peopel and and nation.wedi temben adeka zeytekedelena eritrea singapoor kengebera!!!!

by: roman from: usa
May 18, 2012 11:20 AM
This is comment to comment (1) make yourself clear, what do you mean? Eritrea has nothing to hide.

by: tomi from: usa
May 18, 2012 11:15 AM
I guess Dictator Issayas is law and the judge. VOA is home for Dictator issays and Ali Abdu (MOI). They feel safe to come and lie as they are not challenged for the obvious crimes they are committing. He said some journalists in the country have been tolerated by his regime. How can someone listen to that and not ask for evidence or is there a single independent media there? It is the eritrean who should judge whether he stay in power or give power to the owners, the people. How can the people express their views when there is no freedom of expression, no constitution/law, no independent court, no election whatsoever. Yes, he is following the old tactics of Joseph Mogabe, Gedafi and all. "National security" and the western countries as a weapon to threaten with..........

by: Optimist from: Everywhere
May 18, 2012 10:51 AM
This is a very informative interview, but cut too short. I suppose it contains a lot more facts and that's why VOA does not want us to hear the whole interview.
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