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February 5, 2003 12:00 PM ET

New York, February 5, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today delivered more than 600 petitions to Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki calling for the release of jailed Eritrean journalist Fesshaye Yohannes (commonly known as Joshua), a recipient of CPJ’s 2002 International Press Freedom Award.

Fesshaye, the popular editor of the weekly Setit, Eritrea’s largest-circulation newspaper, was arrested in September 2001 after the government banned the entire private press and arrested independent journalists and a dozen state officials for advocating democratic reforms. According to CPJ’s research, a total of 18 journalists are being held incommunicado across Eritrea, which now ranks as Africa’s foremost jailer of journalists.

During a two-hour meeting in Washington, D.C., Eritrea’s ambassador to the United States, Girma Asmeron, accepted the 607 petitions from CPJ board members Clarence Page and Josh Friedman and Africa program coordinator Yves Sorokobi.

Petition signatories include CNN chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson, Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger, ABC News senior correspondent Claire Shipman, CBS News president Andrew Haywood, and Mort Zuckerman, the publisher of the New York Daily News and U.S. News & World Report.

Earlier in the day, the CPJ representatives met with U.S. congressman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and a staff member from the office of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the co-chairs of the 190-member Congressional Human Rights Caucus, to urge them to work for the release of jailed Eritrean journalists.

CPJ also sent a letter to U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, who visited Eritrea in December 2002, and encouraged him to raise the case of Fesshaye and his colleagues in future meetings with Eritrean authorities. Click here to read the letter.

Also today, CPJ launched a special link on its Web site titled "Free Joshua." Visitors who click on the link will be able to add their names to the 607 journalists and press freedom supporters who have already signed petitions calling for Fesshaye’s release. Click here for petition.






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