Eritrea: Swedish journalist not released

There were mixed messages coming out of Eritrea on Monday evening about whether the Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak had been released from prison after four years or was merely on a hospital visit.

Bengt Sparre, the Swedish ambassador to Eritrea, was hopeful.

“We are assuming that he is considered to be free,” said Sparre to TT from the country’s capital, Asmara.

However, the Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu told AFP that Isaac, an Eritrean who obtained Swedish citizenship in the 1980s, was only briefly released for a medical check-up.

“He is out of prison for medical check-ups. He will not stay more than a few days out of prison, he will return there once his medical check-ups are finished,” Ali said.

Ali said Isaac was an Eritrean citizen at the time of his arrest in September 2001.

“At the time (of his arrest), he had obligations and rights as an Eritrean, he was living in Eritrea. We have legal grounds,” he said.

Nevertheless, Bengt Sparre said that he had also met the information minister on Monday and had been given a very different picture to that presented by AFP.

At the same time, the ambassador said that he was first working on arranging a meeting with Isaak, and then trying to get a health check for the journalist before bringing him back to Sweden.

But the process is complicated by Eritrean domestic politics, said Sparre.

“Everything indicates that [the Eritrean government] has an interest in a long term relationship with Sweden. And this sort of thing is incredibly counter-productive,” he said.

Dawit Isaak was one of the proprietors of the paper Setit, based in the Eritrean capital, when he and several other journalists who were critical of the government were arrested in September 2001. They were accused of being Ethipian traitors and spies.

The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which has been involved in the case, this year ranked Eritrea 166th out of 167 countries in its annual report on press freedom violations.