Eritrea is ranked last on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, below North Korea, Iran and Burma

The president of the World Editors Forum today called on the international community "to do everything in its power" to pressure the Eritrean government to release all journalists detained in the east African country.

Erik Bjerager gave this plea as he presented the 2011 Golden Pen of Press Freedom to Esayas Isaak, the brother of Dawit Isaak, the founder of Eritrea's first independent newspaper.

Isaak has been in prison in Eritrea for the past nine years without charge or trial according to
the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which awards the Golden Pen annually to those who show "outstanding action" in support of press freedom, now in its 50th year.

Bjerager told the forum, which is taking place in Vienna, that Isaak's whereabouts remain unknown, "we don't event know if he is even still alive today".

"It is a disgrace we are still required to draw attention to the plight of these fighters for press freedom.

"Governments should be held accountable by the international community. We must be more effective and articulate advocates for the role of press freedom for cultural, social and economic development.

"Those who jail, threaten, censor or restrict free press should be condemned. The sad fact is the basic right of freedom of expression is still withheld from the majority of the world's population."

According to the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index Eritrea ranked last, with a score of 178, below North Korea, Iran and Burma.

According to Bjerager during the suppression of the independent press a number of journalists were arrested and to date none of them has been formally charged or tried.

"Four of those detained have since died in prison and the whereabouts of Issac remain unknown," he said.

"The Swedish media community has undertaken numerous efforts to advocate for his release without any success. The Eritrean government has made it clear his status as duel citizen of Sweden is of little significance."

"Today in presenting the award we declare that we are all his kind and renew our call to release him and all journalists and editors in Eritrea and on the international community to do everything in its power to pressure the Eritrean government into finally doing so."

Esayas Isaak, Dawit Isaak's brother, broke down in tears as he accepted the award on the behalf of the detained journalist, thanking WAN-IFRA to a standing ovation from members of the audience.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).