Calls for journalist’s release from Eritrean jail

Senior figures in the Swedish media are demanding action from the government to free a Swedish-Eritrean journalist in jail in Eritrea.

Wednesday is Dawit Isaak’s 2,000th day in prison. In a joint open letter, the culture editors of Sweden’s largest papers write that the government has not done enough to secure his release.

“The Swedish government has followed a strategy of silent diplomacy. When the question has been brought up, the government has given reassurances that it is a high priority. But clear and direct public statements have been few and far between,” write the culture editors of Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Göteborgs-Posten, Sydsvenskan, Expressen and Aftonbladet.

In the letter, the culture editors demand information on what the government was doing to free Isaak, a Swedish citizen. They call on the government “remove any doubt that Swedish citizenship is worth the same, regardless of whether the citizen was born in Sweden or somewhere else in the world.”

The editors also demand that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfedlt or Foreign Minister Carl Bildt travel to Eritrea to demand Isaak’s release.

Isaak moved to Sweden in 1987 as a refugee. He became a Swedish citizen in 1992. He lived in Gothenburg with his wife and three children. In 2000 he moved back to Eritrea to work for independent newspaper Setit.

In September 2001, Isaak and several other journalists were arrested after the paper published a list of demands for democratic reforms in the country. At the same time, all privately-owned an independent media were banned in Eritrea.

In September 2005 Isaak was unexpectedly released from jail, but it soon emerged that he had only been let out temporarily for medical treatment. He was sent back to jail after a few days on the outside.

In their letter, the editors say that 2,000 days “is a long time in the life of an adult human being. For a child it is an eternity.”

A motion presented to Göran Persson’s government by Members of Parliament called on Sweden to increase pressure on Eritrea to release Isaak and jailed citizens of other EU countries. They also called on EU aid to Eritrea to be halted.

Swedish organizations including the Journalists’ Union and the Press Ombudsman and international organizations including Amnesty and the EU have also worked for Isaak’s release.