Ex-ministers: change tactics to free Isaak

Former government ministers Thomas Bodström and Jan Eliasson, have urged the government to find a new approach for how to get Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak released from prison in Eritrea.

Ex-ministers: change tactics to free Isaak

In an opinion piece in daily Svenska Dagbladet (SvD), Bodström, former Social Democratic minister for justice, and Eliasson, former Social Democratic foreign minister, urge the centre-right government to change their approach to securing Isaak’s release by appointing him legal representation.

”Ten years of silent diplomatic efforts. For nothing. Eritrea hasn’t cared at all,” the MPs wrote.

The time for diplomatic dealings is over, Bodström and Eliasson argue.

Instead the Swedish government needs to pursue the release of Isaak through legal channels, starting with appointing the imprisoned reporter legal representation.

Through supporting the Habeas Corpus writ filed by Swedish lawyers Percy Bratt and Jesús Alcalá together with French lawyer Prisca Orsonneau, the government could demand to be allowed to see Isaak and finally find out on what grounds the Eritrean authorities are claiming to be holding Isaak in seclusion and without charging him.

This, Bodström and Eliasson wrote, should be doable, as the legal system in the country is supposed to be independent.

”It is not possible to wait any longer. It is time for prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and foreign minister Carl Bildt to act,” they wrote.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Thursday urged the Eritrean government to release the Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, nine other reporters and eleven politicians free.

They have all been incarcerated for ten years without a trial and with no contact with the rest of the world.

Ashton also demanded that the responsible in Eritrea make public where the prisoners are being held and give them the opportunity to see their families and get legal reprsentation.

Dawit 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 but 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. Although released once in November 2005, he was subsequently 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.

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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.”