Letter: Eritrea must free imprisoned journalists

Mr Isaias Afewerki
President of Eritrea
Office of the President
PO Box 257
Asmara, Eritrea

Dear President Afewerki,

We, the Youth Advisory Board of Index on Censorship — a global free expression organisation — are writing to you to call for the immediate release of imprisoned journalists in Eritrea.

We condemn the brutality and ruthlessness with which your regime has gagged expression and assaulted the rights of its citizens to access information.

The very constitution on which your regime governs upholds the rights of all to freedom of conscience. Yet journalists are imprisoned and go missing at the hands of your government. Eritrea has been ranked last on the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index for the past eight years. At least 15 journalists are currently detained and, out of 13 journalists incarcerated in 2001, only four remain alive today.

Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist, was arrested in 2001 and has since been held incommunicado and in solitary confinement without any charges or a verdict. He has not seen a lawyer or his family for 13 years. Eritrean authorities have ignored the appeals of the European Union, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and a lawsuit before a Swedish court.

Seyoum Tsehaye, imprisoned for writing an article that criticised your regime, also has not seen anyone from the outside world since 2001 — including his daughter, who was born soon after his arrest.

Seyoum is a journalist, photographer and prisoner of conscience who earned fame for capturing moving images of Eritrea’s war of independence. That war ended in Eritrea’s first multi-party elections in which your party was victorious, but the people of Eritrea have not seen elections or democracy in any meaningful form since. For speaking out and fighting for freedom to be restored to his country, Seyoum has paid a heavy price.

Eritreans have been denied their human right to freedom of expression. International agencies and human rights groups have alerted the world to arbitrary imprisonment and torture within Eritrea. The government’s attempts to silence critical voices and media workers must end. We urge you to release all journalists from prison and respect international human rights law by granting all Eritreans their right to freedom of expression.


The Index on Censorship Youth Advisory Board


This letter was written by the Index on Censorship Youth Advisory Board, a group of 16-25 year olds drawn from the global community and who were moved to write this letter following a meeting with 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards finalist Vanessa Berhe.

At just 16 years old Berhe set up the organisation One Day Seyoum to campaign for the release of her uncle Seyoum Tsehaye, a journalist who has been imprisoned in Eritrea since 2001. Show your support for the campaign here.