Eritrea: Detained Writer Feared Dead

English PEN is seriously concerned at reports of the death of prominent journalist, playwright and poet Fessehaye (Joshua) Yohannes on 11 January 2007, after over five years’ arbitrary detention.


His death, thought to have been caused by severe ill treatment and the denial of medical treatment, follows that of three other imprisoned journalists in November 2006.  PEN calls for the Eritrean authorities to state publicly what has happened to Yohannes and the other journalists detained since September 2001. If the reports of their deaths are correct, PEN calls on the authorities to carry out a full and impartial investigation and bring those responsible to justice. If the journalists remain alive, PEN continues to call for their immediate and unconditional release.


Fessehaye (Joshua) Yohannes, co-owner and editor of the now-banned weekly newspaper Setit, as well as poet and playwright, had been held incommunicado in secret locations since his arrest in the week of 18-23 September 2001. Yohannes was detained along with at least 10 other journalists and 11 former Members of Parliament as a part of a large-scale crackdown on those calling for democratic reforms. On 18 September 2001, known as ‘Black Tuesday’, the Government closed down all independent media outlets indefinitely. All those detained had their bank accounts frozen and assets confiscated.


Yohannes and the other journalists were initially held incommunicado at a police station in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara. After taking part in a hunger strike in protest against their detention in April 2002, Yohannes disappeared. He is thought to have been transferred to an underground prison in Dongolo, to the north of Asmara, and later to a secret detention centre, Eiraeiro, in the northern Red Sea desert province.


The Eritrean authorities have refused to disclose the whereabouts or conditions in detention of the journalists or to allow any contact with them, including their families. It is believed that five and a half years after their arrest, Yohannes and the other detained journalists were still not been charged or brought to trial. Prison conditions are reported to be appalling and highly detrimental to health and medical care to be sporadic and poor.


In February 2007, a number of reports strongly suggested that Yohannes had died in Eiraeiro prison on 11 January 2007. Yohannes, who was around 50, was paralysed in one hand and had been walking with difficulty for many years. He is thought to have died as a result of severe ill treatment and denial of medical care. Some sources indicate that that Yohannes had suffered torture, including having his fingernails ripped out. He leaves behind him a widow and two young children.


Reports of Yohannes’ death follow those of journalists Yusuf Mohamed Ali (editor-in-chief, Tsigenay), Medhanie Haile (deputy editor-in-chief, Keste Debena) and Said Abdulkader (writer and editor, Admas) last year. In November 2006 the three men were reported to have died in the course of 2005 and 2006 as a result of harsh conditions and lack of medical attention in prison. Media censorship and the fact that Eritrea is closed to human rights investigators means that these reports remain unconfirmed.


Please send appeals to the Eritrean authorities:


  • Requesting a public statement on what has happened to Fessehaye (Joshua) Yohannes and the other journalists currently detained in Eritrea, including Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Medhanie Haile and Said Abdulkader
    If they have died, calling for a full and impartial investigation into their deaths and for any person found to have been involved to be brought to justice. If they are still alive, calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

  • Calling on the Eritrean government to free all writers and journalists detained without charge and in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Eritrea is a party.

Addresses for appeals:


His Excellency Issayas Afewerki
Office of the President
P O Box 257, Asmara, Eritrea
Fax: + 2911 125123
(Salutation: Your Excellency)


Minister of Justice
Ms Fawzia Hashim
Ministry of Justice
P O Box 241, Asmara, Eritrea
Fax: + 2911 126422

(Salutation: Dear Minister)


It may be most effective, however, to send the above appeals care of the Eritrean embassy in London:


His Excellency Mr Negassi Sengal Ghebrezghi

Embassy of the State of Eritrea

96 White Lion St

London N1 9PF

Fax: 020 7713 0161





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