Swedish politicians in secret meetings over Dawit release

Swedish politicians in secret meetings over Dawit release
Photo: AP/Scanpix; Björn Larsson Rosvall
Former Swedish foreign minister, Jan Eliasson, claims to have met secretly with Eritrea's president Isaias Afwerki to push for the release of jailed Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak.

The quiet diplomatic approach has however proved fruitless during the seven years Dawit Isaak has been imprisoned without charge and observers are calling for Sweden to adopt a tougher approach.

Jan Eliasson, claims to have met Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki on two occasions in 2007, on March 22nd and then again on July 13th.

Under the auspices of his role as the United Nations envoy to Darfur, Eliasson met with Isaias Afwerki in Asmara. Eliasson addressed the status of Dawit Isaak, emphasizing that his case is an important humanitarian issue for Sweden.

The president dismissed Eliasson’s requests for Dawit Isaak’s release out of hand.

“He would rather talk about how unjust Eritrea had been treated by the wider world, including Sweden, after the end of the war against Ethiopia,” Eliasson said to Dagens Nyheter.

Since these meetings the Swedish foreign ministry and the European Union have continued to push for Dawit’s release via diplomatic channels. Stockholm-based Swedish ambassador Fredrik Schiller has made more than a dozen trips to Asmara.

The chairperson of Dawit Isaak’s support association in Sweden, Leif Öbrink, is impressed at the commitment to the case but has expressed doubt whether the current approach will have any chance of success.

“An increasing number of people have begun to realize that quiet diplomacy has reached an impasse and are demanding a tougher approach from the government,” Öbrink told Dagens Nyheter.

Öbrink believes however that in practice diplomacy is the only path available for securing the release of Dawit Isaak.

“Our protests can not get him free, but they can help to keep his spirits up.”

Dawit Isaak was arrested on September 23rd 2001 in Eritrea in connection with the closure by the regime of Eritrea’s independent newspapers.

Isaak has neither been charged with any offence nor been informed of the offence for which he is being held.

The Local reported on Friday that Sweden’s four largest newspapers had launched a campaign to push for the release of Dawit Isaak.

The newspapers were on Sunday continuing their campaign in articles and on their editorial pages to push both the Swedish government and the Eritrean regime to act to see that Isaak is released.

Readers are also encouraged to visit the websites and add their name to a petition which will be presented to the Eritrean Embassy in Sweden on May 4th.