Dawit Isaac

Dawit IsaakDawit Isaac unjustly imprisoned by Eritrean Government

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from various sources
published: May 2009

News updates listed at the foot of this item

Dawit Isaac had been jailed without charge ever since an Eritrean government crackdown closed the entire independent press in September 2001. In a bizarre twist, after being released from jail in November 2005, he was again imprisoned. The Committee to Protect Journalists were outraged by news that Dawit was returned to jail just two days after being released. Isaac was sent back to jail for reasons that were not explained, Öbrink told CPJ. A second CPJ source confirmed Isaac’s return to jail.

Dawit (born 27 October 1964) is a Swedish-Eritrean playwright, journalist and writer. He arrived in Sweden as a refugee from the war in Ethiopia in 1987. When Eritrea gained independence, Dawit returned to his native country, got married and had children. He began work as a reporter for the country’s first independent newspaper, Setit. Eventually, he became a part-owner of the newspaper.

On 23 September 2001, Dawit was arrested in his home in Asmara, Eritrea. Concurrently, ten other independent journalists and eleven prominent reformist politicians of the so-called G-15 were arrested, ostensibly for demanding democratic reforms in a series of letters to President Isayas Afeworki.

They have been jailed incommunicado and without charge or forced into extended military service following the September 2001 clampdown that shut down the country’s private press.

However, research indicates that the crackdown was motivated by political anxiety ahead of elections which were later cancelled. The independent press, including the Setit newspaper, had covered the confrontation between the president and the reformers.

On 19 November 2005, Dawit Isaak was released from jail, and according to official Eritrean sources, he was released only to see a doctor. After only two days of freedom, and while on his way to hospital, Dawit Isaak was imprisoned again. He is believed to be held in Carchele prison in central Asmara.

During his brief release, he was able to phone his wife in Sweden as well as Leif Öbrink, a close friend who headed a campaign in Sweden for his release. The release was originally believed to have been permanent and was attributed to Swedish diplomatic efforts and was confirmed by Bengt Sparre, Sweden’s envoy to Eritrea. But conflicting reports soon emerged. Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu told Agence France-Presse that Isaac had been freed temporarily merely to receive a medical check-up.

In April 2002, CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, reported that Dawit Isaak was hospitalized due to torture. The Eritrean government denied that he has been tortured, but did not allow anyone to visit him. Dawit had not been tried before a court. Because he held dual Swedish and Eritrean citizenship, Swedish authorities began working for his release.

Every week, a number of organisations, including Reporters Without Borders and the National Press Club, petition the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm to free Dawit Isaak. On 2 March 2007, Isaak was awarded a newly created prize, dedicated to the memory of Anna Politkovskaya and awarded by the Swedish National Press Club.

On 27 March 2009, four of the five largest newspapers in Sweden, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, featured a plea for the release of Dawit Isaak on their first pages. In addition, the five newspapers will feature joint reports on Isaak’s situation, and a joint petition which will be handed over to the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm on 4 May 2009.


Follow-up News:

28 prisoners of conscience detained 18 years ago must be immediately and unconditionally released
17 September 2019

Eritrea urged to free Dawit Isaak, all detained journalists
23 June 2016

Authorities must clarify fate of Dawit Isaak and other journalists detained without trial for 5,000 days
1 June 2015

200,000 Swedes back ‘Free Dawit Isaak’ campaign
3 May 2009

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