Yousif Mohammed Ali, Matheos Habteab, Dawit Habtemichael, Medhanie Haile, Temesegen Ghebereyesus, Amanuel Asrat, Sahle Tseazagab (Wedi-Itay), Dawit Isaak, Fesshaye “Joshua” Yohannes , & Said Abdelkadir

All of these journalists are members of the independent press in Eritrea. Yousif Mohammed Ali was editor-in-chief of the weekly Tsigenay. He was previously detained for several weeks in October 2000. Editor-in-chief Matheos Habteab and journalist Dawit Habtemichael both work for the weekly Meqaleh. There are reports that Habteab was arrested several times during the first months of 2002. Medhanie Haile is editor-in-chief of the weekly Keste Debena, where Temesgen Ghebreyesus is a columnist and member of the board of directors. Emanuel Asrat is editor and Wedi Ade an assistant editor of the weekly Zemen. Journalist Dawit Isaak is with Setit, as was Fesshaye Yohannes, who was publisher and editor-in-chief of the weekly. Said Abdulkader is editor-in-chief of the weekly Admas.

Current Status

According to a letter smuggled out of prison, all of the journalists—with the exception of Yohannes and Abdelkadir—began a hunger strike on March 31, 2002, in what they said was a protest against their illegal detention and to demand “justice before a fair and independent court.” Those on hunger strike report that they have only undergone questioning on one occasion. Their interrogators wanted to know if they had links with 11 government officials who were detained in September 2001 after publishing an open letter critical of the government. Several other journalists have fled the country to avoid arrest.

In April 2004, it was reported that the journalists were being held in secret security sections of the 2nd and 6th Police Stations of Asmara.

According  to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Fesshaye (Joshua) Yohannes died on January 11, 2007, from severe ill treatment and the denial of medical treatment while in prison. PEN America has been unable to independently confirm his death. There have also been credible but unconfirmed reports that four more of the detainees—Dawit Habtemichael, Matheos Habteab, Said Abdelkadir, and Medhanie Haile—have also died in custody since 2006. 

Amanuel Asrat was awarded with the PEN International Writer of Courage prize in October 2020. However, his whereabouts are still unknown and he is believed to still be detained in a maximum security prison.

Case History

On September 18, 2001, Eritrean authorities abruptly banned all non-state print media outlets. According to sources in the capital, security forces then sealed off the newsrooms of Tsigenay, Meqaleh, Keste Debena, Zemen, Setit, and Admas after removing computers, phones, fax machines, and other equipment. A few days later, police began rounding up independent news professionals. By September 25, 2001, officers had arrested at least 11 reporters and held them incommunicado.

Yusuf Mohamed Ali was arrested at his home on September 18, 2001. Mattewos Habteab was picked up on September 19, having just been released from an earlier detention. It is reported Dawit Habtemichael was arrested on or about September 21. Temesgen Ghebreyesus was arrested on September 20. Emanuel Asrat was picked up by plainclothes security agents sometime during the month of September. Fesshaye Yohannes was arrested in the early hours of September 27. Said Abdulkader was picked up by security agents on September 20. Wedi Ade was arrested around September 20. No charges are known to have been filed against any of the 11 journalists.