International Press Freedom Awards

2002 Awardee: Fesshaye Yohannes

Eritrea: FESSHAYE YOHANNES


Languishing in prison since the fall of 2001, prominent Eritrean journalist Fesshaye Yohannes staged a hunger strike in May with nine other colleagues in hopes of spurring their release. Instead, government officials transferred the journalists to an undisclosed location--and no one has heard from them since.

Fesshaye (who is also known as Joshua) is a popular writer, reporter, playwright, and founding editor of the Eritrean weekly newspaper Setit. The 47-year-old was imprisoned without charges in September 2001, along with the majority of Eritrea's independent press corps, during President Isaias Afewerki's widespread crackdown on political dissent. According to CPJ research, at least 18 journalists, including Fesshaye, are in prison in Eritrea today.

Prior to the crackdown Setit and other private media had provided a forum for debate on the president's increasingly autocratic rule. An open letter published in Setit on September 9, 2001, told the government that, "People can tolerate hunger and other problems for a long time, but they can't tolerate the absence of good administration and justice."

Nine days later, with world attention distracted by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, authorities in this tiny nation on the Horn of Africa moved swiftly to silence critics, and the government suspended all of Eritrea's independent and privately owned newspapers for allegedly threatening state security and "jeopardizing national unity." With the press out of business, the government canceled general elections.

As a teenager, Fesshaye fought for Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia. His military experience gave him connections to many of those in power today in Eritrea, and in 1994, he used those connections to help establish the beginnings of the country's first independent media.

Fesshaye's paper, Setit, became the largest-circulation newspaper in the country, covering social problems including poverty, prostitution, and Eritrea's lack of facilities to care for handicapped war veterans.

But criticism from the independent press increasingly angered the government. In May 2001, knowing that Eritrea's free press was far from secure, Fesshaye asked CPJ to help him create a journalists' union to improve press freedom conditions.

After the independent press was banned last September, Fesshaye's initial instinct was to go into hiding. But, refusing to abandon his colleagues, he eventually surrendered to authorities.

2015
Cándido Figueredo Ruíz (Paraguay), Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (Syria), Zone 9 Bloggers (Ethiopia), Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque,“Zunar” (Malaysia)

2014
Aung Zaw (Burma), Siamak Ghaderi (Iran), Mikhail Zygar (Russia), Ferial Haffajee (South Africa)

2013
Janet Hinostroza (Ecuador), Bassem Youssef (Egypt), Nedim Şener (Turkey), Nguyen Van Hai (Vietnam)

2012
Mauri König (Brazil), Dhondup Wangchen (China), Azimjon Askarov (Krygyzstan), Mae Azango (Liberia)

2011
Mansoor al-Jamri (Bahrain), Natalya Radina (Belarus), Javier Valdez Cárdenas (Mexico), Umar Cheema (Pakistan)

2010
Mohammad Davari (Iran), Nadira Isayeva (Russia), Dawit Kebede (Ethiopia), Laureano Márquez (Venezuela)

2009
Mustafa Haji Abdinur (Somalia), Naziha Réjiba (Tunisia), Eynulla Fatullayev (Azerbijan), J.S. Tissainayagam (Sri Lanka)

2008
Bilal Hussein (Iraq), Danish Karokhel and Farida Nekzad (Afghanistan), Andrew Mwenda (Uganda), Hector Maseda Gutiérrez (Cuba)

2007
Dmitry Muratov (Russia), Mazhar Abbas (Pakistan), Adela Navarro Bello (Mexico), Gao Qinrong (China)

2006
Jesús Abad Colorado (Colombia), Jamal Amer (Yemen), Madi Ceesay (The Gambia), Atwar Bahjat (Iraq)

2005
Galima Bukharbaeva (Uzbekistan), Beatrice Mtetwa (Zimbabwe), Lúcio Flávio Pinto (Brazil), Shi Tao (China)

2004
Svetlana Kalinkina (Belarus), Aung Pwint and Thaung Tun (Burma), Alexis Sinduhije (Burundi), Paul Klebnikov (United States)

2003
Abdul Samay Hamed (Afghanistan), Aboubakr Jamai (Morocco), Musa Muradov (Russia), Manuel Vázquez Portal (Cuba)

2002
Ignacio Gómez (Colombia), Tipu Sultan (Bangladesh), Irina Petrushova (Kazakhstan), Fesshaye Yohannes (Eritrea)

2001
Jiang Weiping (China), Geoff Nyarota (Zimbabwe), Horacio Verbitsky (Argentina), Mazen Dana (West Bank)

2000
Zeljko Kopanja (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Modeste Mutinga (DRC), Steven Gan (Malaysia), Mashallah Shamsolvaezin (Iran)

1999
Jesús Joel Díaz Hernández (Cuba), Baton Haxhiu (Kosovo), Jugnu Mohsin and Najam Sethi (Pakistan), María Cristina Caballero (Columbia)

1998
Grémah Boucar (Niger), Gustavo Gorriti (Panama), Pavel Sheremet (Belarus), Ruth Simon (Eritrea)

1997
Viktor Ivancic (Croatia), Freedom Neruda (Ivory Coast), Christine Anyanwu (Nigeria). Ying Chan (United States) and Shieh Chung-Liang (Taiwan)

1996
Ocak Isik Yurtçu (Turkey), Daoud Kuttab (Palestinian Authority), J. Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico), Yusuf Jameel (India)