• Sweden edition
 
What would Dawit Isaak have done?

What would Dawit Isaak have done?

Published: 21 Oct 2011 11:46 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 Oct 2011 11:46 GMT+02:00

I read the interview with Dawit Isaak's children, Bethlehem and Yorun, in Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) on Wednesday morning, before my first cup of coffee, and I certainly did not need any caffeine after that.

The deep frustration, anger and desperation they expressed at the apparent futility of the highly public campaign to save their father virtually jumped off the page.

Their plea definitely struck a deep chord, especially the charge that all the well intentioned efforts to publicize Dawit's plight and to press the Eritrean government on his behalf are in fact not helping but may be diminishing the chance of his release.

It is fully understandable that Behtlehem and Yorun Isaak feel that both their father and the cause of his fate have been hijacked by by activists and journalists (such as myself) and that they urgently wish to claim him back.

 

Dawit's children have every reason to be upset and to feel deeply frustrated. But I would ask them to consider just a few issues before they dismiss all the steps taken on their father's behalf as irrelevant or useless.

 

For one, the campaign for Dawit Isaak went public only after years of patient waiting to see if any of the contacts behind the scenes, the efforts of so-called 'quiet diplomacy', would bear fruit.

As several commentators have pointed out, numerous other Eritrean government critics were arrested in 2001 together with Dawit Isaak, for whom no public campaign was launched. They have remained jailed or have died since that time, without any indication that their families were close to securing their release.

 

Secondly, much of the public criticism has been directed against the failure of the Swedish government to force the Eritrean government into some kind of dialogue, however basic, that would bring about a positive resolution of the case.

Dawit Isaak is, after all, a full Swedish citizen and as such he should receive the full thrust of all possible governmental and legal action on his behalf. That effort appeared somewhat flagging at times and all questions about what exactly the Swedish government has or has not done to win Dawit's freedom have not been satisfactorily answered. 

 

Also, Eritrea formally grants its citizens the right of "habeas corpus" - the right to appear in person in a court of law, to hear any charges filed against one's person - in its interim constitution.

Should this right not be claimed by a man jailed by Eritrean authorities for more than ten years?

 

And yes, it may well be that there is such a thing as pushing Eritrean government too far into a corner.

As Bethlehem Isaak pointed out in her interview with Sveriges Radio (SR), the constant fingerpointing at Eritrean leader Esayas Afewerki as "Dictator, Dictator" may be counterproductive.

Undoubtedly, Afewerki must still retain a sense that there is way to move forward, that allows for an opening to end Dawit's imprisonment.

If the family feels that it has evidence of such signals from the Eritrean government, then it is vitally important to explore all possibilities to pursue these contacts further. However, as Bethlehem stated quite clearly in that same interview, it does not appear that any such opening currently exists.

 

Finally, while comparisons do not always work and are often imperfect, history and experience can offer helpful analogies.

It is a fact that public attention in human rights cases matters, that it can bring change, even in seemingly hopeless situations.

One example is Myanmar (Burma) where dissident Aung San Suu Kyi's lonely fight to oppose the ruling Junta of generals finally came to an end in late 2010, after more than fifteen years under strict house arrest.

The Burmese government appears to finally realise that it cannot continue to exist in isolation and as a result recently decided to free more than 250 dissidents who had languished in jail for years.

Eritrea will sooner or later discover that despite valuable resources and important friends, it cannot secure its future by shutting out most of the world. Similarly, as Eritreans grow more prosperous, they will begin to ask the very same questions Dawit and his colleagues raised when they were arrested.

 

This brings us to another important point, namely the question how would Dawit Isaak have handled such a case as his?

It is obviously impossible to answer, but one thing seems clear: Dawit was not one to remain silent in the face of oppression. He felt so strongly about freedom of speech and basic human rights that he left his family behind in Sweden to return to Eritrea to ensure a better future for his loved ones and all Eritrean people.

As he wrote in 'Setit', the newspaper he co-founded, in 2001: "People can tolerate hunger and other problems for a long time, but they cannot tolerate the absence of good administration and justice."

He did not believe that change would come on its own, but instead needed to be given a strong, public (!) voice to grow.

 

In spite of all the terrible difficulties and different points of view, one thing is certain: Dawit Isaak would be so proud of his children who stand up for him in the way they feel they must do.

Bethlehem and Yorun say that their father belongs to them and that they want to be in charge of handling his case.

That is their right and their privilege, but I hope they will recognize that Dawit's cause was never so strictly limited and that the focused public activism on their father's behalf may yet yield the result that must seem so remote at the moment - that Dawit Isaak finally comes home again.

Susanne Berger is a US-based German historian heavily involved in research into the life of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who helped prevent the arrests of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Second World War.

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

12:12 October 21, 2011 by star10
I agree with most of your points. The publicity that Dawit got is useful at least for his safety (if not release). The Eritrean dictator will not let a person perish in prison if that person got so much publicity. Otherwise, they may just kill him and bury his body somewhere where nobody can trace. Just one stupid typo in your article .... Isaias is not Ethiopia's dictator, it is Eritrea's dictator.
23:55 October 21, 2011 by Amiche1
The family are afraid , this is the tactic of PFDJ (the dictatorial regime of Eritrea)and his puppets and they went in the trap. Even the SVT and Expressen has faced the keep quite slogan of dictator lovers has reached.PFDJ wants make quite all and the family obey it after eight years pressure!!! I would never accept it!!!
09:17 October 24, 2011 by zooeden
OK so who is this bloke anyway???? The new Malcolm X??? I dont think so, is he such a swede??? Well If the man would be white it would help but then he is still behind bars, sorry dude. This si more of a wake up call to the swedish citizens, if the people unite for the cause with the full cooperation of the system them man would have been out long time ago.
18:20 October 24, 2011 by Aradom
This article like most of the pieces that is written in this subject lacks understanding and depth about Eritrea's predicament and what the leaders of Eritrea has to face for the last 10 years.

It is very easy for one journalist or historian to sit in a study room and read and produce articles based on the comfort of their conducive environment and at time of their choosing. While the Eritrean government and its people had to endure the constant bombardment of 'learned' westerners pointing fingers complimented by their government's policies and handling of matters in the horn of Africa causing instability, exodus of the youth and food shortage and proxy-governance of African states.

The no war no peace created after the devastating war between Eritrea and Ethiopia has continued for the last ten years. Half a million young soldiers are engaged in the Border between the two countries at this moment. This situation is despite the fact that a binding border demarcation which both countries have signed as final. The Ethiopian government lead by Meles Zenawi refused point blank to implement the UN appointed decision making body, and is occupying sovereign Eritrean land and threatening publicly to overthrow the Eritrean government.

Eritrea a country of 3.5 million people with only 20 years of independence never had time to establish its institutions or governance and had to engage its population into constant military defense for its survival. The Eritrean people are very protective of its hard won sovereignty where more than 100,000 willingly died to free and protect the nation in the last 40 years.

Any historian or writer would get a lot of respect from the majority of Eritreans if she/he can present the reality and facts of national importance; however if you make the issue of one person (however relevant) in front of the national issue, then you will not find any listening ears in Eritreans. That's why westerners do not seem to fathom the predicament of Eritreans. They would like to come and appear to know it all and lecture poor little oppressed starving Eritreans about Dawit Issak or dictatorship; while the facts is Eritreans are patriots, intelligent, decent, high moral values and have proven they can organise themselves with out the need of western interference.

I think Dawit Issak would have written what i wrote and ask you not to patronise Eritreans. Betelehem certainly did.
12:32 October 27, 2011 by sberger
Aradom - let me see if I understand you correctly. You say that after a long and costly fight for independence, Ertireans now should sit back and tolerate the fact that their new government feels free to withhold the most basic human rights, including those of free speech and due process? Is that what Eritreans fought for? And you think Dawit Isaak would support this? It's an interesting thesis that we unforunately cannot test, because we cannot ask him what he thinks, because he disappeared in Eritrean jail, without charge or trial or the opportunity to answer the supposed accusations against him.

Also, are you advocating that Eritrea should dole out collective punishment, for injustices and sleights received from Ethiopia, or peceived lack of respect from the international community? I have called for a reevaluation of Europe's decision to overlook Zenawi's obvious breach, but you obviously have not seen these statements.
19:41 October 28, 2011 by tadchem
In my experience, people who believe that they know what another human being might think under any given circumstance are usually wrong.

The only people who are wrong more often are those who have predicted the date of the end of the world.
Today's headlines
Swedish Tetra Pak factory to shut down
Photo: TT

Swedish Tetra Pak factory to shut down

A Tetra Pak factory in southern Sweden is set to shut down due to a decrease in demand, meaning 250 Swedes risk losing their jobs. READ  

The Local List
Ten false friends in the Swedish language
Photo: The Uppsala Koala

Ten false friends in the Swedish language

Never, ever take the Swedish language at face value. This is a language where "puss" means "kiss" and "kiss" means "pee". And that's just the beginning... READ  

Sami museum hit in suspected tear gas attack
Permanent exhibition on the life of Sami nomads. Photo: Bengt Oberger/Wikipedia

Sami museum hit in suspected tear gas attack

The Sami museum in northern Sweden had to be evacuated after two attackers sprayed an unknown substance which left several people violently ill. READ  

Roma advocate scoops Wallenberg prize
Emir Selimi: The winner of the 2014 Raoul Wallenberg Prize. Photo: Charles L. Sjölander

Roma advocate scoops Wallenberg prize

A Roma man has been hailed as "inspirational" after scooping this year's Raoul Wallenberg Prize for setting up an organization to help stamp out racism against the community. READ  

Government keen on Nato forces in Sweden

Government keen on Nato forces in Sweden

Nato will soon be able to deploy forces to Sweden, with the government likely to sign an agreement with the military alliance this week, but an expert told The Local that full membership remains unlikely. READ  

Beggar hit in exhaust fume 'attack'
Exhaust fumes. Photo:Shutterstock.

Beggar hit in exhaust fume 'attack'

A beggar in southern Sweden was forced to flee in terror after she was enveloped with thick black smoke, part of an apparent attack that was captured on video and spread via social media. READ  

Elections 2014
Sweden opens the gates for election voting
Don't forget to vote. Photo:Shutterstock.

Sweden opens the gates for election voting

If you're busy on September the 14th, or simply can't wait to have your voice heard, Wednesday morning marked the opening of the polling booths for early-bird voters. READ  

Whooping cough alert after two infants die

Whooping cough alert after two infants die

The Swedish Public Health Agency has urged parents to be aware of the dangers of the infectious whooping cough disease after two babies have recently died from the illness. READ  

Chuck Berry wins 2014 Polar music prize
Chuck Berry performing in Oslo in 2007. Hakon Mosvold Larsen /Scanpix Norway

Chuck Berry wins 2014 Polar music prize

The Polar music prizes were handed out in Stockholm on Tuesday night, with Chuck Berry and theatre director Peter Sellars sharing one million kronor ($153,000) in prizes. READ  

Swedish store scraps high heels for toddlers
The shoes pictured are indeed the shoes in question. Photo: Joakim Loamotte/TT

Swedish store scraps high heels for toddlers

UPDATED: A social media storm has seen a supermarket chain recalling its heeled children's shoes. The man behind the storm says other countries could learn from how seriously Sweden takes equality. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Society
Meet the man who made a Swedish store recall its high heels for kids
Business & Money
'How I came to run my own business in Sweden'
Politics
Expert explains why Sweden's election oozes uncertainty
National
City plays Schindler's List theme at Nazi rally
Society
For Stockholm Fashion Week, here's the A-Z of Swedish fashion
Blog updates

25 August

Hit och dit, här och där (The Swedish Teacher) »

" Hej igen! A common challenge for Swedish language students are the location adverbs hit/här, dit/där, hem/hemma etc. Some of the location adverbs come in two versions. We should use one type of location adverb when we use a verb describes where we are, and we should use the other type of location adverb when we the verb..." READ »

 

25 August

The Dollar Store (Blogweiser) »

"A dollar store in Sweden. Blog post: http://t.co/tNuuvcP1q0 #USD #greenbacks #sweden #sverige pic.twitter.com/RHFAYf7U1k — Joel Sherwood (@joeldsherwood) August 23, 2014 There’s a chain here in Sweden called The DollarStore. This name always stood out to me in a country where they don’t use dollars. I went there for the first time this weekend. They actually accepted greenbacks..." READ »

 
 
 
National
'Amnesiac' man avoids deportation for ten years
Gallery
Princess Estelle through the years
Business & Money
Swedish city all set for six-hour workday trial
Business & Money
Five golden rules for the Swedish job hunt
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Gallery
People-watching August 22-24
National
Armed royal guards caught (very) drunk on the job
National
Sweden orders textbook on Roma discrimination
Gallery
Violent anti-Nazi demonstrations in Malmö
Society
A closer look at Sweden's five official minority languages
Gallery
See the destruction from the southern Sweden floods
Politics
'Sweden Democrats hold the key to elections'
Society
Swedes celebrate first day of smelly fish season
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching August 20th
Society
Did you know the Bronx in NYC was named after a Swede?
Society
Swedes slam Danes for 'racist' art
National
Majority of Swedes favour more or just as many refugees
Sponsored Article
Find out what gives this Swedish school executive appeal
Society
This gold coin may be the key to solving a Swedish massacre
Skatteverket
Sponsored Article
Introducing... ID cards and permits in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Housing in Stockholm
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

732
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se