World Association of News Publishers

Golden Pen of Freedom Awarded to Swedish-Eritrean Journalist

Golden Pen of Freedom Awarded to Swedish-Eritrean Journalist

Article ID:


Dawit Isaak, who left Sweden for Eritrea to help build the country's independent press -- and was imprisoned for his efforts – has been awarded the 50th anniversary Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

Mr Isaak has been held in Eritrea for 10 years, most of it incommunicado. His whereabouts – or even if he is still alive – are unknown.

"This award is an excellent opportunity to increase global awareness of Dawit's case and adds to the growing international pressure on the Eritrean authorities to provide information on his health and whereabouts," said Esaias Isaak, accepting the award on behalf of his brother during the opening ceremony of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum Thursday in Vienna, Austria.

"The Golden Pen of Freedom breaks the Eritrean government's attempts to create a wall of silence around Dawit and all other imprisoned journalists," he said to an audience of more than 1,000 publishers, chief editors and other senior newspaper executives from 102 countries.

WAN-IFRA has presented the Golden Pen of Freedom since 1961 to recognise the outstanding action, in writing or deed, of an individual, group or institution in the cause of press freedom.

Dawit Isaak, an Eritrean émigré to Sweden who took Swedish citizenship, returned to his homeland following independence to co-found the country's first independent newspaper, Setit, which rose to national prominence and gained a reputation for investigative reporting. But, in 2001, the government closed Setit, along with all of the country's independence press, suspended civil liberties and jailed numerous journalists, including Mr Isaak.

"Dawit Isaak should have been a prominent, celebrated public figure for his work helping to build the new, desperately poor country in the horn of Africa," said Erik Bjerager, President of the World Editors Forum, who presented the award. "Instead, he was rewarded by being jailed without charge, without trial, for the past ten years. His family has been barred from visiting and he has disappeared into the silence of the notorious Eritrean prison system."

In presenting the award, WAN-IFRA again called on Eritrean authorities to immediately release Mr Isaak and all other imprisoned journalists in Eritrea, and for the international community to pressure the Eritrean government into doing so.

Eritrea is as bad as it gets when it comes to press freedom. It is ranked last on Reporters Without Borders "World Press Freedom Index," below even North Korea, Iran and Burma.

In a controversial Swedish interview in 2009, President Isaias Afewerki made it clear that Dawit Issak's status as a dual citizen of Sweden was of little consequence and that there were no plans to honour repeated Swedish requests to free him. "We will not have any trial and we will not free him," he said. "We know how to handle his kind."

In presenting the Golden Pen of Freedom on Thursday, WEF President Erik Bjerager said: "Today, we declare that we are all 'his kind.'"


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2011-10-13 15:15

Contact information

The Golden Pen of Freedom is WAN-IFRA's annual award recognising individuals or organisations that have made an outstanding contribution to the defence and promotion of press freedom. Read more ...

In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...

The African Press Network (RAP21) is a digital network that supports a strong independent press throughout Africa by sharing, distributing and exchanging information between newspaper publishers, editors, journalists and human rights advocates. Read more ...