His Excellency President Isaias Afewerki
President of Eritrea
23 September 2011
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to call for the immediate release of journalist, writer and playwright Dawit Isaak, who has been held for 10 years to the day without charge or trial. Such is the secrecy surrounding Mr Isaak’s detention that it is not even clear if he is still alive.
Mr Isaak, one of the founders of Eritrea’s first independent newspaper, Setit, will be awarded the 2011 Golden Pen of Freedom by our organisations at the 63rd World Newspaper Congress in Vienna in October. He has been held incommunicado without charge or trial since his arrest in 2001. His children have not seen him for nearly a decade and do not even know whether he is alive or dead.
Mr Isaak, who has dual Eritrean-Swedish citizenship after being forced to flee his native country in 1987 during the war for liberation, returned when Eritrea gained independence in 1996 and co-founded Setit. In May 2001, Setit and other privately owned newspapers published an open letter from a group of reformist politicians demanding democratic reforms and a thorough investigation of the events leading up to Eritrea’s wars with Ethiopia. Setit went on to publish a series of open letters to Your Excellency calling for reform.
On 23 September 2001, all private press outlets in the country were officially shut down, and 11 of the politicians were arrested, along with Mr Isaak and 13 other newspaper owners, editors and journalists. To date, none has been formally charged or tried. According to reports, four of the journalists who were detained in 2001 have died in prison.
In December 2008, it was reported that Mr Isaak had been moved to a maximum-security prison in Embatkala, one of the harshest jails in the country. Several weeks later, Mr Isaak was reportedly transferred to a military hospital. Despite assurances that he is receiving all necessary medical treatment, the government has not disclosed Mr Isaak’s whereabouts nor provided any indication as to the state of his health.
We respectfully call on you to ensure that the authorities immediately provide information on Mr Isaak’s whereabouts and the state of his health. We urge you to ensure that Mr Isaak and all other journalists are released from jail, and that Mr Isaak is allowed to receive the Golden Pen of Freedom in person in Austria in accordance with international standards of human rights and freedom of expression.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum
WAN-IFRA is the global organisation for the world’s newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organisation groups 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries.
The Embassy of the State of Eritrea in Stockholm;
Dr. Ghiorghish Teklemichael, Minister of National Development, State of Eritrea;
Adv. Pansy Tlakula, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights;
Paola Amadei, Head of Delegation, European Union Delegation to the State of Eritrea;
Khalid Abdu Dahab, Communication & Media Relations Officer, Pan-African Parliament;
Jean-Pierre Ilbondo, Regional Advisor for Communication and Information, UNESCO liaison office to the African Union Commission;
MEP Olle Schmidt, Liberal Party of Sweden, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe;
Per Hultengârd, Head of Legal Affairs, Swedish Media Publishers’ Association.