* Eritrea often accused of human rights abuses
* Horn of Africa country lacks independent media
* Eleven senior officials also detained, some may be dead
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, Aug 30 Four journalists have died
in prison in Eritrea after spending years behind bars, the media
watchdog Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday.
Eritrea is routinely labelled by watchdogs as one of the
world's worst offenders against human rights, but the Horn of
Africa country rejects the allegations and often accuses rights
groups of working for foreign intelligence services to undermine
"After several weeks of investigating reports from sources
... and from prison guards who fled the country, Reporters
Without Borders has been able to confirm that three more
journalists - Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab and Wedi Itay
- have died in the northeastern prison camp of Eiraeiro," the
group said in a statement, adding that all had been held since
"Another journalist arrested in February 2009, whose
identity has not been established with certainty, has also
reportedly died in detention - in his case, in Abi Abeito
military prison, near the capital, Asmara."
The group's assertions could not be independently verified.
Lacking independent media and often accused of harassing
journalists, Eritrea is consistently ranked among the world's
top violators of press freedom.
The European Parliament urged the government last year to
release another journalist, Swedish-Eritrean Davit Isaak, and
all 11 former Eritrean officials who have been held
incommunicado since a government crackdown in 2001.
The officials were part of a group of 15 who criticised
President Isaias Afewerki and asked for reform after Eritrea's
1998-2000 war with Ethiopia.
Those detained, and accused of conspiring with Ethiopia to
topple Isaias, were Vice President Mahmoud Sherifo, Foreign
Minister Haile Woldetensae, military chief-of-staff Ogbe Abraha
and eight central committee members.
Mahmoud, Ogbe and four other former central committee
members have died from illness and heat exhaustion, according to
a guard who had worked at the Embatkala and Eiraeiro camps where
the detainees were being held before fleeing to Ethiopia in
2010. The temperature in the camps can reach 50 Celsius (122
Eritrea has said nothing about the detainees' condition or
whereabouts. Last year it accused the rights group Amnesty
International of plotting to incite an Arab Spring-style popular
uprising, a claim the group immediately dismissed.
(Editing by James Macharia)