Assignment documentary wins Foreign Press Association award

Hugh Dennis, Mike Thomson, Nina Manwaring, Bridget Harney and Matt Frei, who presented the team with the award Hugh Dennis, Mike Thomson, Nina Manwaring, Bridget Harney and Matt Frei, who presented the team with the award

A harrowing radio documentary about Eritrean kidnap victims has won radio story of the year from the Foreign Press Association.

Escape from Sinai, a World Service Assignment programme presented by Mike Thomson, opens with a phone interview with Philemon Semere, a young Eritrean refugee being held hostage in Sinai. His kidnappers threaten to kill him unless his impoverished family pays a huge ransom.

During the recording, a frightened and tearful Semere admits to being burned, beaten and electrocuted daily, and pleads for help to save his life.

Thomson says: 'It's great that a story like this has won such a prestigious award because the plight of the people it features is so under-reported. Every year thousands of mainly Eritrean refugees are kidnapped and often tortured to death by their captors. Yet few seem to care in Sinai or beyond, and this gruesome trade just carries on and on, barely noticed by the outside world.'

Thomson travelled to the largely lawless region of Egypt's North Sinai with producer Nina Manwaring to make the programme. He also went to a slum in the city of Cairo, where 40 survivors of kidnapping had been crowded into a dimly lit room. Thomson says he'll never forget the kidnap victims' 'utter fear and insecurity'.

'All were too afraid to talk to me in case their former kidnappers recognised their voices and came looking for them again,' the journalist tells Ariel.

'It was only when they learnt that I had done the interview with Philemon Semere, which they all seemed to have heard, that one man finally agreed to tell me his story.'

The 25-minute programme, edited by Bridget Harney, was transmitted last March and is still available to listen to on Assignment's website.

The Foreign Press Association Media Awards, now in their 14th year, were hosted by Hugh Dennis and held on Tuesday in London.

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