Golden Pen of Freedom Award open for nominations
Past laureates include Dawit Isaak, the Eritrean writer, poet and publisher currently jailed by Eritrean authorities; and Ahmad Zeid-Abadi, an Iranian journalist and political analyst who was imprisoned following Iran's disputed presidential election in June 2009.
Please send your nominations to Alison Meston at alison.meston (@) wan-ifra.org by 16 September 2011. Provide your name and contact details, plus the name of the nominee and a brief statement as to why you are nominating them.
For more information on the Golden Pen of Freedom, click here.
2011 WAN-IFRA Golden Pen of Freedom Awarded to Dawit Isaak
In May of 2001, a group of 15 cabinet members (prominent reformist politicians later dubbed the G-15), published an open letter to the government demanding democratic reform, and a thorough investigation of the events leading up to Eritrea’s recurring war with Ethiopia. The letter was published by the free press, most notably by Mr Isaak’s paper, Setit, which also went on to publish a series of similar open letters to president Isayas Afeworki demanding sweeping democratic reforms. The government acted in swift retaliation following the published demands of G-15, and by September, had effectively suspended all civil liberties in Eritrea.
On 23 September, all private press outlets in the country were officially shut down, and 11 of the G-15 politicians were arrested, along with Dawit Isaak and 13 other newspaper owners, editors and journalists. To date, none have been formally charged or tried, and Mr Isaak and the other journalists and politicians imprisoned with him have all been branded as traitors, accused of receiving financial aid from abroad, an act of criminal treason according to Eritrean press laws. According to reports, four of the journalists that were detained in 2001 have since died in prison.
In 2001, Sweden’s then honorary consul in Eritrea, Lis Truelsen, managed to get a glimpse of Mr Isaak through the prison bars and exchange a few words with him. The government of Sweden and the Swedish media community have undertaken numerous efforts to advocate for Mr Isaak’s release, without any success, as the Eritrean government has made it clear that his status as a dual citizen of Sweden is of little consequence. This position was reflected in public statements made in May 2009 by the country’s president, and in which he announced: "To me, Sweden is irrelevant. The Swedish government has nothing to do with us."
On 13 December 2008, it was reported that Mr Isaak had been moved to a maximum-security prison in Embatkala, along with 112 other political prisoners. The move was allegedly by the explicit order of the President, and the Embatkala prison is reportedly one of the harshest prison environments in the country. Several weeks later, on 11 January 2009, reports surfaced that Mr Isaak had been transferred to a military hospital, and despite government assurances that he is receiving all necessary medical treatment, the details of his actual whereabouts remain sketchy.
A controversial Swedish interview with Eritrean president Issayas Afwerki drew the attention of human rights watchdog organisations when he declared unceremoniously that there were no plans to release Mr Isaak, nor to conduct a trial in which the journalist would be formally charged. The interview, which was broadcast on 26 May 2009, stirred international controversy when the Eritrean president dismissed the issue of Mr Isaak’s imprisonment altogether, stating without qualm: "We will not have any trial and we will not free him. We know how to handle his kind."
About the Golden Pen of Freedom
One of the objectives of the Golden Pen is to turn the spotlight of public attention on repressive governments and journalists who fight them. Often, the laureate is still engaged in the struggle for freedom of expression and the Pen has, on several occasions, secured the release of a publisher or journalist from jail or afforded him or her a degree of protection against further persecution.