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Isaak’s alleged crime 'too serious' for trial

TT/AFP/The Local · 1 Aug 2010, 11:21

Published: 01 Aug 2010 11:21 GMT+02:00

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A journalist originally from Eritrea but with Swedish citizenship, Isaak was arrested in September 2001 along with a dozen newspaper owners, editors and journalists accused of being Ethiopian spies.

“It was a conscious decision from the government not to hold a trial in this case. Anybody who is accused of a crime receives a trial in an Eritrean court. But this is a special case due to the serious nature of the crime,” presidential aide Yemana Gebrab told newspaper Aftonbladet during a visit to Stockholm.

According to Gebrab, the Eritrean government has proof that Dawit Isaak formed part of a group that sought to facilitate an invasion of the country by Ethiopian troops. The president's advisor added that Eritrea had not presented any evidence to Sweden since it considered Isaak an Eritrean citizen who was bound by the east African country’s laws.

Asked whether Isaak was still alive, Gebrab replied only that “ninety percent of the questions about Eritrea concern this issue.”

Swedish media and rights groups recently called on the EU to halt aid to Eritrea until Isaak and other prisoners are released from a "death camp" near Asmara.

"The EU's aid to Eritrea must gradually be halted," said the heads of the Swedish chapters of rights groups like Reporters Without Borders and PEN, along with journalist and publishing associations in a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day.

No aid should be given to Asmara "until the Eraeiro death camp is closed, its prisoners are given medical care ... and released or given an open trial on the 'crimes' they are suspected of," they wrote in an opinion piece in the Dagens Nyheter daily.

According to the piece, the EU's total aid package to Eritrea in coming years totals $413 million.

Their appeal came amid new reports on harsh conditions at the high-security Eraeiro secret prison near Asmara, where Isaak and a number of other reporters and opposition politicians are reportedly being held.

A number of demonstrations were planned across Sweden Monday calling for the release of the reporter, now 45.

"The prisoners are dying one by one. How long will it take before the world reacts and puts pressure on Eritrea to release the political prisoners?" Isaak's brother Esayas told the TT news agency.

In April, the first information in years pinpointing Isaak's whereabouts and describing the conditions of his detention emerged in Sweden, before new accounts from a former guard at the Eraeiro prison surfaced in early May.

Isaak "complains all the time, asking for 'medicine, medicine,' and all the time asking for help from a doctor ... I think he has mental problems," ex-guard Eyob Bahta Habtemariam told the Expressen daily.

Habtemariam, in hiding in Ethiopia, said he had last seen Isaak on January 5th, right before he himself fled from Eritrea.

Story continues below…

He said Isaak was held handcuffed nearly around the clock in solitary confinement in a windowless cell measuring only 12 square metres at the secret prison, some 50 kilometres from Asmara.

The prisoners there, which include former government ministers opposed to President Isaias Afeworki, were not tortured, but according to Habtemariam, the suffocating heat and isolation "was worse than torture".

"When I started working (at the prison) nine years ago, there were 35 prisoners. Fifteen of them are dead today," he told Expressen, adding that three of the dead had killed themselves.

"There is a risk (Isaak) will kill himself," Habtemariam insisted.

TT/AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

12:23 August 1, 2010 by eddie123
what a sad story... treason is a serious offense but that is an issue for the courts to decide. i doubt if these group of people will ever get a fair trial in their country but not having a trail also speaks bad of the government.

it will be nice if the international community dialogues with eritrea on the release of all political prisoners. i wonder who is eritrea's friend or close ally in the international arena. it will be wise to through friendly channels.

suspending aid is an option but that will hurt those in most need of humanitarian assistance within the country. it is best not to channel aid through the government but rather, through NGOs, CBOs, FBOs and via direct administration by UN or development agencies.
18:49 August 1, 2010 by voiceofreason
Joke of the Century. What about a Court Martial, Summary Trial. What kind of a crime could that be.
21:56 August 1, 2010 by Rey Stockholm
If the swedish people were kind enough to give him sanctuary and citizinship what on earth was he doing going back and getting involved in activities which we can reasonably assume would draw the attention of the authorities.
07:42 August 2, 2010 by Wedi FitHi
Unfortunately, we will never see the prisoners released through negotiations. It's like trying to have the Nazis release the Awshvitz prisoners through negotiation and dialogue. Let alone the prisoners, even the guards are bound to be liquidated to keep the truth from coming out. The only way we can see the prisoners released is if the government is overthrown or is forcibly driven out of the country.

I hope the criminal regime is overthrown soon for the people of Eritrea to be free from oppression,
08:21 August 2, 2010 by concha de tu puta madre
I will be in that mass demonstration holding the release Gilad Shalit sign.
14:43 August 2, 2010 by adolfo
i accept that this is sad story we dont have to support or acknoledge such type of things but when i see it on tigray online forum its makes me laugh because the tigray meles regimes locked thosands oromians in different part of the country prison with out trial even they killed some of them we have to see it from humanity not ppl have european or american citizenship both meles and isayas are leading the dictatorial government.
17:52 August 2, 2010 by Audrian
This regime is the same regime Sweden had been ardently supporting as a progressive government before it came to power. The regime has not changed since.

EU is unlikeli to cut aid to this government because it regards Eritrea as an important ally in the Red Sea. The US has an important communication base.

Is sweden accusing this regime because a Swedish person is in prison! If it is so it should be clearly stated. But to claim that his case should receive a special attention from EU would not convince EU. There are several thousand prominent political prisoners rotting in Africa's prisons.
19:09 August 2, 2010 by vast
@adolfo what does ethiopia has to do with this. just stick with the topic
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