Eritrea continues to be one of the worst jailers of writers and dissident voices, and was ranked 179th of 180 countries on RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
PEN is aware of at least 17 journalists currently held incommunicado or in circumstances amounting to enforced disappearance, some of whom are believed to have died in the appalling conditions of Eritrean prisons. Their deaths – which have not been officially confirmed – have been attributed to harsh conditions and lack of medical attention. The Foreign Minister of Eritrea claimed in an interview with Radio France Internationale in June 2016 that all of the journalists and politicians arrested in wide-spread crackdown on dissent in 2001 are alive, including Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak, though no proof has been provided. In the same interview, the foreign minister said that these men would be tried ‘when the government decides’ while openly acknowledging that they are ‘political prisoners.’
Dawit Isaak – who holds Swedish citizenship after spending a number of years in the country during the Eritrean war of independence and the subsequent border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia – is one of many journalists detained incommunicado. Isaak was arrested alongside other journalists as part of the September 2001 crackdown on Eritrea’s independent press. His case is emblematic of the dire situation facing journalists in the country, who have been subjected to systematic arbitrary arrests, intimidation, and enforced disappearances over the years.
Ahead of World Press Freedom Day, PEN renews its calls on the Eritrean authorities to release immediately and unconditionally all journalists detained incommunicado and without trial, including Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak, who has been awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2017. Isaak will receive the award during celebrations for World Press Freedom day on 3 May 2017, which will mark his 5701 day behind bars. English PEN will also be joining fellow organisations active on Eritrea to hold a celebration of Dawit Isaak and launch a campaign for his release in London on 4 May.
For more information on Isaak and others detained in Eritrea please visit the PEN International website.
Join us on 4 May
Join us on Thursday 4 May for our event ‘Press Freedom, Activism and Writing in Eritrea: an evening to celebrate Dawit Isaak’, organised by Arts for Action in partnership with English PEN, The Royal African Society, Amnesty International, PEN Eritrea, and PEN International, with support from Cultures of Resistance.
Spread the word
Share details of the journalists imprisoned in Eritrea on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. #EritreasForgottenJournalists
Write to the authorities
- Protesting the detention of Dawit Isaak on politically motivated grounds and without known charges or trial since 2001;
- Urging the Eritrean authorities to immediately disclose the whereabouts of Dawit Isaak and other detained journalists and release them immediately and unconditionally;
- Expressing concern for Isaak’s health as detainees are believed to have suffered ill treatment, probably torture and lack of access to medical care, as highlighted by the reported deaths of some of the journalists
His Excellency, Isaias Afewerki
Office of the President,
Fax: + 2911 125123
Minister of Information
Hon. Yemane Gebremeskel
P.O. Box 242
+291 124 847
Please send a copy of appeals to the diplomatic representative for Eritrea in your country if possible. Details of some Eritrean embassies can be found here.