The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also denounced the continued detention of the journalists, who were seized in a 2001 government crackdown.

"Not only is the government continuing to hold these prisoners without charge or trial, it is withholding even the most basic information about them, including whether they are still alive,"  Joel Simon, CPJ chief, said on Saturday.

"Eritrea's blatant disregard for human rights and due process makes it the worst jailer of journalists in Africa," he said.

The watchdog also disputed government explanation that the journalists were detained because they threatened national security and had failed to observe licensing requirements.