Dissent is brutally crushed in Eritrea’s militarised one-party state. But Radio Erena, broadcast from Paris by refugees, has become a symbolic lifeline to those back home who dare to listen

Ten years ago, Biniam Simon, a journalist at Eri-TV, Eritrea’s state television channel, was informed by his government overlords that he would, after all, be allowed to travel to Japan to attend a seminar on video production. This, to put it mildly, was surprising. Those who leave Eritrea, a single party state with one of the worst human rights records in the world, usually do so only by clandestine and extremely risky means. But if Simon was astonished, he was also realistic. “They only allowed me to go because they thought there was no way to escape from Japan,” he says. “Japan had agreed I would be returned to Eritrea.” Knowing this, he didn’t allow himself even to toy with the idea of defection. He made no plans. He dreamed no dreams. He hoped only to enjoy a few peaceful days outside the prison of his homeland.

You have to understand: no information is available there at all, about the outside world or internally

New arrivals tell them, ‘You can’t imagine how important it is. It’s the only thing that gives anyone any hope’

Related: Trapped and bereft in the world’s ‘fastest emptying country’

We absorbed the mindset of the militarists. We ended up fighting everyone. The gun has been everything ever since

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