Dawit Isaac

Dawit Isaac, journalist and newspaper owner imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Dawit Isaac, a journalist and owner of the newspaper Setit, was arrested on 18 September 2001, during a crackdown on independent media in Eritrea. He was arrested along that year along with 16 other journalists, for reporting around the G-15 letter, an open letter from prominent Eritrean politicians that condemned the actions of President Afwerki and his regime.

He is being held incommunicado by the Eritrean authorities who refuse to disclose his exact location or details of his health and well-being. Sources have said that the government accuses Dawit of being a “traitor”, though he has never been charged or brought to trial.

In April 2002, the detained journalists began a hunger strike in protest against their prolonged, incommunicado detention, demanding to be brought before a court and fairly tried. Shortly after the hunger strike they were separated and sent to different prisons and detention centres across Eritrea. Dawit was admitted to hospital for treatment following the hunger strike before being returned to an unknown prison.

Dawit was released from custody on 19 November 2005 after significant interventions on his behalf by the government of Sweden and others. He was re-arrested two days later while on his way to hospital. The Eritrean authorities claimed that he had only been temporarily released in order to undergo medical treatment.

In December 2008, he was reported to have been transferred to a maximum-security prison in Embatkala, 35km outside of Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. Shortly after, on 11 January 2009, he was admitted to an Air Force hospital in Asmara. He is believed to be seriously ill, though the nature and extent of his illness remain unknown and the Government of Eritrea refuses to confirm even his hospitalization.

Dawit was granted refugee status in Sweden in 1987 and became a naturalised Swedish citizen in 1992. He returned to Eritrea after independence in 1993 when he began working with a children's theatre in Asmara.  The Eritrean authorities have stated that they consider Dawit’s continued detention to be an Eritrean affair. By virtue of his being born and educated in Eritrea, they consider him to be an Eritrean, rejecting his Swedish nationality. Amnesty International considers Dawit Isaac a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights ruled in May 2007 that journalists arrested in September 2001 in Eritrea, which includes Dawit Isaac, were being held in arbitrary and unlawful detention. It called upon the Eritrean government to release the men and compensate them. The Government of Eritrea has ignored the ruling and journalists arrested in September 2001 remain in detention.