This week, as CPJ finalized its annual list of journalists imprisoned for their work, my thoughts turned to Eritrea and this photo. Taken in 2000, near the end of a two-year border war with neighboring Ethiopia and during the heyday of a burgeoning private press movement in Africa's youngest nation, the photo shows the staff of Setit newspaper.
To me, the photo exudes the excitement and camaraderie of those engaging in a vital, nascent enterprise during an era of change and promise. If I didn't know better I would say the staff of Setit are right now ready to print their next twice-weekly edition.
But I do know better. I know that no edition of Setit has been seen since September 18, 2001; and I know that one person in this photo, Fesshaye Yohannes (back, fourth from left), was arrested and is reported to have died in secret government custody--some say the result of untreated torture wounds; another, Semret Seyoum (second from right), was, a few months later, caught near the Sudanese border while attempting to flee the country. He spent nearly one year in prison, shackled in solitary confinement for most of it. And I know Seyoum and two others in this photo--Aaron Berhane (seated) and Tedros Abraham (far right) have since fled their homes, enduring hunger and dangerous, physically brutal journeys across borders--a journey that proved fatal for one journalist last year. They now struggle to survive in exile, fearing every day that their family members will face retribution. And I know that one other reporter, who is also co-owner of Setit, Dawit Isaac (not pictured), was arrested on September 23, 2001, and is still in jail.
Shortly after I started at CPJ in August 2001 as its Journalist Assistance program coordinator,
I know this photo could not be taken today. Even those who have survived are far flung: in
In the photo of the staff of Setit, from left to right:
Eden Iyasu, entertainment reporter
Woldeab, computer technician
Hizbawi Mengisteab, sports reporter
Fessehaye (Joshua) Yohannes, reporter and co-owner, arrested on September 26, 2001; died in prison in 2007
Semret Seyoum, reporter and co-owner, arrested January 6, 2002, and released December 2002; in exile in
Tedros Abraham, reporter, in exile
Aaron Berhane (seated), editor in chief and co-owner, in exile in
Dawit Issak, reporter and co-owner, is not in the photo. Isaak was arrested September 23, 2001, and is still being held.