Journalist jailed in Eritrea for seven years

Today marks the seventh anniversary since Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak was arrested and put in an Eritrean prison.

Journalist jailed in Eritrea for seven years

Four other journalists imprisoned at the same time have died in their cells.

On the anniversary of the arrest, several groups working for Isaak’s release are petitioning the Eritrean embassy.

Each group has submitted a protest letter and within the week Leif Öbrink, head of the Free Dawit support group, will meet with staff from the embassy.

“I want to try to get permission to travel there and see Dawit and see how he’s doing. The foreign ministry has also been working on it, but hasn’t succeeded,” he said to the TT news agency.

Isaak has a wife and three children in Gothenburg. Neither they nor anyone else has been allowed to contact him.

Through sources in Eritrea, Öbrink knows that Isaak is doing well under the circumstances.

“But seven years in a prison cell has its effects. Still, he’s doing better than many other journalists who were arrested at the same time, thanks to the work of the foreign ministry and all of the news reports about him,” said Öbrink.

Thirteen journalists and several Eritrean opposition political leaders were arrested in a police raid in 2001.

At the same time, the Eritrean government banned free press in the country.’

According to Reporters Without Borders, four of the journalists have died in prison. One has been released and now resides in Sweden.

Isaak came to Sweden twenty years ago as a refugee, and became a Swedish citizen in 1992.

He and his wife, along with their three children, took up residence in Gothenburg.

When Eritrea gained independence, Isaak returned to the country without his family to work for Setit, an independent news magazine.

In September 2001, the magazine published an open letter from political dissidents which demanded democracy, justice and transparency.

Shortly thereafter, Isaak and around twenty other journalists and opposition members were arrested, and all independent and privately owned media outlets were banned.

Since then he’s sat in prison without a trial.

Isaak was released once in November 2005, but was arrested two days later on his way to see a doctor.

Eritrea’s expressed opinion on the case of Isaak , who holds both Swedish and Eritrean citizenship, is that it is an Eritrean matter which has nothing to do with Sweden.


Swedish rights group reports Eritrea to police for ‘torture and kidnapping’

Sweden's chapter of Reporters Without Borders has filed a complaint accusing Eritrea's regime of human rights abuses over the imprisonment of Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak in 2001.

Swedish rights group reports Eritrea to police for 'torture and kidnapping'
A sign from a September 2011 demonstration for Dawit Isaak's release
The complaint was directed at Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and seven other high ranking political leaders, including Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed.
Handed over to Swedish police by RSF and Isaak's brother, the complaint accused them of “crimes against humanity, enforced disappearance, torture and kidnapping”.
It was also signed by human rights advocates like Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
On September 23, 2001, Isaak was arrested shortly after the Eritrean newspaper he founded, Setit, published articles demanding political reforms.   
According to RSF, he and his colleagues detained at the same time are now the journalists who have been imprisoned the longest in the world.
Isaak had fled to Sweden in 1987 during Eritrea's struggle against Ethiopia which eventually led to independence in 1993. He returned in 2001 to help shape the media landscape.
RSF ranks Eritrea as the world's third most repressive country when it comes to press freedom, behind North Korea and Turkmenistan.
Similar complaints have been filed before, including in 2014 when a new law took effect in Sweden enabling the prosecution for such crimes even if committed elsewhere in the world.
The prosecutor-general at the time concluded that while there were grounds to suspect a crime and open an investigation, doing so “would diminish the possibility that Dawit Isaak would be freed.”
Bjorn Tunback, coordinator for RSF Sweden's work on the Dawit Isaak case, said they hoped this time would be different after Foreign Minister Ann Linde last year said that despite repeated calls for Isaak's release “no clear changes are yet to be noted in Eritrea.”
Tunback said the minister's statements indicated that diplomatic channels had been exhausted.
“Diplomacy has its course, but when that doesn't lead anywhere, there is also the legal route,” Tunback told AFP.
“The law is there to protect individuals… and that is what we're testing now.”