Government calls for Eritrea to release Swedish journalist

(AFP) The Swedish government on Tuesday called for the release of a Swedish journalist jailed in Eritrea for four years as Sweden marked the 15th annual World Press Freedom Day.

“Dialogue is a prerequisite for democracy, to exchange views with each other. Dawit Isaak knows this, and that is why he is in jail,” Development Aid Minister Carin Jaemtin told a crowd holding a 24-hour vigil for Isaak in central Stockholm, news agency TT reported.

Isaak, who holds both Swedish and Eritrean citizenship, was jailed in September 2001 after calling for democracy and press freedom in Eritrea.

Eritrean police jailed him, along with 11 other prominent journalists, accusing him of violating national security laws for his criticism of the Asmara regime.

Representatives of the Swedish government, human rights organisations and media groups have put pressure on Eritrea to release him, but to no avail.

Isaak has not been allowed to receive visitors, see a lawyer, or given a date for his trial.

“There have also been suspicions, which we have neither been able to have confirmed or denied, that he has been beaten and tortured,” the deputy head of the Swedish Federation of Journalists, Arne König, told Swedish Radio on Tuesday.

“When it comes to the Eritrean embassy the response is basically nil. They don’t want to talk to us,” he said, calling on the European Union to withdraw its development aid to Eritrea to pressure the regime.

“Some sort of noticeable pressure is needed,” he said, pointing out that Sweden has no trade with Eritrea and can therefore not threaten to impose economic sanctions.

Isaak’s wife and three children live in the southwestern Swedish city of Gothenburg.