Eritrea President Denies Stifling Freedom of Speech

Posted May 18th, 2012 at 4:05 am (UTC-5)
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Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has denied that his country stifles freedom of speech, just days after a media rights group identified Eritrea as the most censored country in the world.

In an interview with VOA's English to Africa service on Friday, President Afewerki said his government is not interested in keeping people from expressing their views.

But he says 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 Mr. Afewerki, “We've even ignored some of these individuals, who have been working with foreign governments, taking money providing distorted information about the reality here.”

Earlier this month, the Committee to Protect Journalists listed Eritrea as the most restricted country in the world for journalists. 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 charge and are often held for extended periods of time without access to family or a lawyer.

In his wide ranging interview with VOA, President Afewerki 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 country.

Mr. Afewerki, 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.