His Excellency Issayas Afewerki

President of Eritrea

Office of the President

C/o Permanent Representative to UN

Your Excellency,

We are writing on the occasion of 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, to call for the release of Dawit Isaak, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality and founder of the now-banned weekly Setit. Mr Isaak was jailed along with thirteen other journalists, following a government crackdown in 2001 that saw the closure of all independent media outlets and the suspension of civil and political liberties in Eritrea.

Even after eight years in prison, many of the journalists have never been formally charged. Eritrean law stipulates that an individual cannot be detained without charges for more than 30 days.

The journalists are being held in undisclosed locations and their families and lawyers are not allowed to visit them. According to reports, many of them suffer from health problems due to the horrendous living conditions in prison.

The other journalists currently in prison are: Said Abdulkadir, Yosuf Mohamed Ali, Saleh Al Jezaeri, Amanuel Asrat, Temesgen Gebreyesus, Mattewos Habteab, Dawit Habtemichael, Medhanie Haile, Zemenefes Haile, Ghebrehiwet Keleta, Hamid Mohamed Said, Seyoum Tsehaye and Selamyinghes Beyene.

Relatives of the imprisoned journalists are reportedly subject to harassment and reprisals, even those living abroad; there are reports that some relatives have also been imprisoned simply because of their family ties.

The continued imprisonment of Mr Isaak and his colleagues constitutes a deep blemish on the international standing of Eritrea, which can only be erased by their release. We respectfully remind you that the jailing of these fifteen journalists constitutes a clear breach of their right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Furthermore, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights considers that "detention, as punishment for the peaceful expression of an opinion, is one of the most reprehensible ways to enjoin silence and, as a consequence, a grave violation of human rights". We respectfully call on you to ensure all fifteen journalists are immediately released from prison. To do so would be recognised by all international observers as an act of justice and strength by your government. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin O'Reilly
World Association of Newspapers

Xavier Vidal-Folch
World Editors Forum

WAN is the global organization for the newspaper industry, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organization groups 18,000 newspapers in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups. WAN is non-governmental and non-profit.