Prior to the crackdown Setit and other private media had provided a forum for debate on the president's increasingly autocratic rule. An open letter published in Setit on September 9, 2001, told the government that, "People can tolerate hunger and other problems for a long time, but they can't tolerate the absence of good administration and justice."
As a teenager, Fesshaye fought for Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia. His military experience gave him connections to many of those in power today in Eritrea, and in 1994, he used those connections to help establish the beginnings of the country's first independent media.
Fesshaye's paper, Setit, became the largest-circulation newspaper in the country, covering social problems including poverty, prostitution, and Eritrea's lack of facilities to care for handicapped war veterans.
But criticism from the independent press increasingly angered the government. In May 2001, knowing that Eritrea's free press was far from secure, Fesshaye asked CPJ to help him create a journalists' union to improve press freedom conditions.
After the independent press was banned last September, Fesshaye's initial instinct was to go into hiding. But, refusing to abandon his colleagues, he eventually surrendered to authorities.