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Thirty-eight IFEX members appeal to government to account publicly for missing and imprisoned journalists

(MFWA/PEN Canada/IFEX) - The following is a joint action signed by 38 IFEX members:

Embassy of Eritrea
1708 New Hampshire Ave, NW
Washington DC 20009 USA
Tel: +202 319 1991
Fax: +202 319 1304

Dear President Issaias Afeworki:

We, the undersigned member organisations of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), join with PEN Canada and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) in calling on your government to account publicly for the fate of four independent journalists whose deaths have been reported in recent months and to release, immediately and unconditionally, all remaining journalists currently behind bars.

According to our information, poet and playwright Fessehaye "Joshua" Yohannes, who was a journalist with the now-banned weekly "Setit", has died in detention. Fessehaye was paralysed in one hand and had been walking with difficulty for years. He reportedly succumbed to the extremely harsh conditions in which he had been held since his arrest in September 2001. Last year, a report also circulated on the Internet about the death in prison of three other independent journalists: Medhane Haile (editor-in-chief, "Keste Debena"), Said Abdelkader (writer and editor, "Admas", and owner of the press that printed most of the independent newspapers) and Yusuf Mohamed Ali (editor-in-chief, "Tsigenay"). To date, your administration has neither confirmed nor denied the veracity of these reports.

More recently, ten state media journalists were detained in a wave of arrests that began on 12 November 2006, following the defection of several leading journalists. They were arrested on suspicion of maintaining contact with the fugitives or of trying to flee. Several of them remain in detention, although we are unsure of the exact number.

Since your government cracked down on the political opposition and the independent media in September 2001, there has been no freedom of expression in Eritrea. Indeed, the human rights situation has deteriorated to such an extent that your country now ranks among one of the world's worst offenders.

We are seriously concerned by the news of the reported deaths of Fessehaye Yohannes, Medhanie Haile, Said Abdelkader and Yusuf Mohamed Ali. If true, it would constitute an inexcusable tragedy. We therefore call on you to prove that Fessehaye Yohannes did not die; or, that if he did, that his body be released to his family so that they can provide him with a proper burial. PEN Canada and MFWA also urge you to prove that Haile, Abdelkader and Ali are alive. We also ask that all other journalists in prison be released immediately and unconditionally. While they remain behind bars, PEN Canada and MFWA demand that they be treated humanely, have regular access to food and to any needed medical care and receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The undersigned organisations also call on your government to allow for independent media to resume work in Eritrea and that your government ensures the full respect for all fundamental human rights as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of the United Nations, which Eritrea signed and ratified in 2002. We refer specifically to Articles 7, 9 and 19, which deal with, respectively, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; arbitrary arrest or detention; and the right to freedom of expression.


- Adil Soz
- Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRinfo)
- Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
- Cartoonists Rights Network (CRN)
- Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES)
- Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
- Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP)
- Centre algérien pour la défense et la promotion de la liberté de la presse (Algerian Centre for the Defence and Promotion of Press Freedom, CALP)
- Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (CERIGUA)
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
- Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA)
- Free Media Movement (FMM)
- Freedom House
- Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
- Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (Foundation for Press Freedom, FLIP)
- Globe International
- Human Rights Watch
- Independent Journalism Centre (IJC), Moldova
- Index on Censorship
- Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS)
- International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
- International Press Institute (IPI)
- IPS Communication Foundation (BIANET)
- Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
- Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
- Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
- Media Watch
- Norwegian PEN
- Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
- PEN American Centre
- PEN Canada
- Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA)
- World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
- World Association of Newspapers (WAN)
- World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)

Media Foundation for West Africa
PEN Canada

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