Horn of Africa’s Eritrea and Central Africa’s Equatorial Guinea, two ‘undemocratic’ countries ruled with an iron-fist by dictatorial regimes of Isaias Afewerki and old lion Teodoro Obiang Nguema, respectively, have been ranked among the world’s eight worst-rated countries in terms of media freedom by a report released last week by Freedom House. The others are Cuba, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Iran, North Korea and Uzbekistan.
The Freedom of the Press 2013, which described these countries as the worst of the worst, said independent media are either non-existent or barely able to operate in these states, where the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime.
“Citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression,” the report said. In Eritrea, a country described by Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) as Africa’s biggest prison for journalists, at least 30 journalists are languishing behind bars. “Of 11 incarcerated since 2001, seven have died as a result of prison conditions or have killed themselves,” RSF said.
Reports from the capital Asmara suggest that foreign journalists are categorically denied visitor’s visa, and those who enter the country ‘by all means’ are branded ‘terrorists’ and could be jailed for life. The government requires all Internet service providers to use government-controlled Internet infrastructure, and many websites managed by Eritreans abroad are blocked, as is YouTube, according to Foreign Policy.com.
It is also believed that several independent journalists who fled the country have had one or two of their family members arrested and jailed. And those who criticise government policies from abroad are arrested as soon as they set foot on Eritrean soil.
Last month, the government of Eritrea called Moon of the South an ‘obscure’ publication and ordered its spies and hitmen to threaten and hunt down its editor, after the independent outlet published a story http://moonofthesouth.com/chad-helped-seleka-rebels-overthrow/ alleging that Central African Republic former dictator François Bozize was overthrown with weapons supplied by Eritrea to the Seleka Rebels. The publication editor has since gone underground, fearing for his life.
In oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, where Nguema and his son rule the country as if it belongs to their grand-father and grand-mother, the reign of terror prevails and no journalist dares say or write anything critical of the president and his family, for fear of being thrown into a pond of crocodiles.
The former Spanish colony has one of the highest GDP per capita in Africa, but in reality most of its population live in extreme misery and poverty, with no running water, electricity, and adequate sanitation and healthcare.
Few international correspondents are granted access to the country and those who are given visas are subject to censorship and prohibited from reporting on poverty and the oil sector, Foreign Policy.com reports, adding that press freedom defender Manuel Nze Nsongo died under mysterious circumstances in late 2012.
*Photo by Peter Busomoke/AFP/Getty Images/courtesy of Foreign Policy.com. Equatorial Guinea dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema.