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Jailed Eritrean leads list of 2007's honored journalists

Seyoum Tsehaye, former head of national TV and radio, has been in prison since 2001 without access to his family, a lawyer, or court proceedings.

An Eritrean journalist imprisoned for six years without access to his family, a lawyer, or court proceedings, was honored for his courage Wednesday by Reporters Without Borders.

Seyoum Tsehaye, named 2007 Journalist of the Year, has yet to be charged since he was arrested in Sept. 21, 2001, in a roundup of reformers, journalists, and opponents of Eritrean President Isayas Afeworki, the Paris-based press freedom group said. Mr. Tsehaye, a former head of national television and radio, had resigned in protest against Mr. Afeworki and was working for the privately owned press.

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Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, also sought to bring attention to the "catastrophic state of press freedom" in Eritrea, which ranked worst in RSF's latest press freedom index, released in October.

"We tend to forget about this country with everything happening in Iraq, China, and Burma," says RSF's Washington director, Lucie Morillon. "[Tsehaye] was trying to inform the people of his country and he wasn't afraid even in this very hostile environment. He paid for it with his freedom, and we think it's fair that he get some international recognition."

RSF named the Democratic Voice of Burma, a shoestring radio and television network founded by exiles, as media outlet of the year. RSF called it "one of the most reliable sources" during Burma's pro-democracy demonstrations in September, which were violently suppressed.

It also honored the Journalistic Freedom Observatory (JFO) in Iraq as top press-freedom defender of the year.

RSF's cyberdissident laureate was Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil, sentenced in February to four years in prison for insulting Islam and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The 23-year-old former student at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, sharply criticized conservative Muslims in his blog. His lawyers allege he is being held in solitary confinement and tortured in prison.

RSF also awarded a special China prize to husband-and-wife activist couple Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, who are pressing the government on human-rights issues ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. They have been under constant surveillance and travel restrictions since May for allegedly "harming state security."

Laureates are chosen by an international panel of 35 judges and awarded €2,500 ($3,685) each. RSF awards them in partnership with the private charity Fondation de France.