Dawit Isaac

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Ali Abdu, Eritrea's longtime information minister, has gone into exile, his brother has confirmed. (YouTube)

On Wednesday, the Swedish newspaper Expressen published what it described as an exclusive interview with Ali Abdu--Eritrea's long-time information minister, government spokesman, and censor-in-chief--who vanished from public view in November. The piece confirmed that Ali had gone into exile, but it shed no light on the whereabouts and well-being of more than two dozen imprisoned journalists.

Iran is the world's worst jailer of the press. Detentions rise in the Middle East and North Africa.

Stark regional differences are seen as jailings grow significantly in the Middle East and North Africa. Dozens of journalists are held without charge, many in secret prisons. A CPJ special report

Journalists reporting on protests and civil unrest face a rising threat of detention. Here, Israeli soldiers arrest a Palestinian journalist. (Reuters)


Swedish journalist Elsa Persson (Journalisternas Solidariska Fängelseaktion)

If you pass by Kronoberg Prison in Sweden's capital, Stockholm, you will see journalists chained to its gates. They have committed no crime. For over a week, journalists have taken turns locking themselves up in front of the prison to raise awareness of the imprisonment of three colleagues held in the Horn of Africa.

Meron Estefanos was threatened over her coverage of journalist Dawit Isaac. (Sven Lindvall/Expressen)

New York, September 26, 2011--A Sweden-based journalist was publicly threatened Friday in connection with her reporting on the case of Dawit Isaac, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist who has been imprisoned in Eritrea for a decade without charge, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. A day earlier in New York, bodyguards for the Eritrean leader Isaias Afewerki pushed and threatened two Swedish journalists seeking to speak to the president about the Isaac case, the journalists said. 

On September 18, 2001, President Isaias Afewerki banned all independent press in Eritrea. (AP)

Since Zaid Tewelde's husband, an Eritrean freedom fighter turned playwright and journalist, was arrested in September 2001, she has spent each passing day coping with the burning questions of her two young sons, age 9 and 10, "Where is my dad? When are we going to see him?" And she is not alone. Like Zaid, the wives of journalists Seyoum Tsehaye, Dawit Isaac, Yusuf Mohamed Ali, and Temesghen Ghebreyesus, among others, have endured the same haunting questions 365 days a year for a decade.

From left, European Parliament members Judith Sargentini, Charles Tannock, Ana Gomes, and Olle Schmidt call for the release of Eritrean political prisoners. (European Parliament)

Eritrea was on the hot seat Thursday in Strasbourg and Brussels. Ten years after a massive crackdown on dissent in Asmara that included the arrests of 11 independent journalists, European institutions have signalled that they are weary of President Isaias Afeworki's repression. 

Journalist Dawit Isaac, co-founder of Eritrea's now-defunct leading newspaper Setit, has spent nearly 10 years in one of the reclusive Red Sea nation's secret prisons with no charges ever placed against him. Isaac's location and health status are currently unknown, as are those of at least 16 other journalists who CPJ believes are also being held incommunicado in the country.

Senior Eritrean Advisor Yemani Gebreab told Swedish daily Aftonbladet that the government had decided to “move forward,” leaving imprisoned journalists in the eternal oblivion of indefinite detention.
Since a week after September 11, 2001, when the government of Eritrea threw into secret prisons journalists from its once-vibrant private press, the only certainty it has offered about the fate of the prisoners has been ambiguity. Over the years, officials have offered various explanations for the arrests—from nebulous anti-state conspiracies involving foreign intelligence to press law violations. They have even denied that the journalists themselves ever existed. From the Eritrean president to the public relations officer with the Eritrean Ministry of Information, Eritrean officials have been consistent in their refusal to disclose whether the journalists are alive or dead and their suggestion that the journalists will be held indefinitely without formal charge or trial.
Tedros Menghistu's press card from Eritrea. He lives in Houston now.For the better part of the last 20 years, Tedros Menghistu has been a refugee, forced to flee his Red Sea homeland of Eritrea not once, but twice—first as a young man displaced by war in the early 1990s, and then as a professional journalist escaping political censorship and military conscription a decade later. Menghistu is also one of a handful of enterprising former professional journalists uprooted from Eritrea who have started independent news outlets in cities such as HoustonToronto, and London. As outlets for a range of views suppressed by the government in Eritrea, these upstart media platforms work under intimidation from supporters of the Eritrean government. 

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