A journalist with dual Eritrean-Swedish citizenship, Dawit Isaak is one of the founders of Eritrea’s first independent newspaper, Setit, and is currently one member of a group of reformist political prisoners who have been detained without charge or trial for the past 10 years.
In May of 2001, a group of 15 cabinet members (prominent reformist politicians later dubbed the G-15), published an open letter to the government demanding democratic reform, and a thorough investigation of the events leading up to Eritrea’s recurring war with Ethiopia. The letter was published by the free press, most notably by Mr Isaak’s paper, which also went on to publish a series of similar open letters to president Isaias Afewerki demanding sweeping democratic reforms. The government acted in swift retaliation following the published demands, and by September, had effectively suspended all civil liberties in Eritrea.
On 23 September, all private press outlets in the country were officially shut down, and 11 of the G-15 politicians were arrested, along with Dawit Isaak and 13 other newspaper owners, editors and journalists. To date, none have been formally charged or tried, and Mr Isaak and the other journalists and politicians imprisoned with him have all been branded as traitors, accused of receiving financial aid from abroad, an act of criminal treason according to Eritrean press laws. According to reports, four of the journalists that were detained in 2001 have since died in prison.
His Excellency Issayas Afewerki
President of the State of Eritrea
Office of the President
P.O. Box 257, Asmara
c/o: Eritrean Embassy in the United States, Washington, D.C.
Fax: +1 202 319 1304
14 November 2011
We, the undersigned 31 members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), are writing to you to call for the immediate release of journalist, writer and playwright Dawit Isaak, and all other journalists held in captivity in Eritrea.
Mr. Isaak, one of the founders of Eritrea's first independent newspaper, "Setit", was awarded the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) 2011 Golden Pen of Freedom.
During October 2011, rumours of Mr. Isaak's death circulated among the world's press and social media. This includes an article published in the Swedish online newspaper "The Local" that appeared on 27 October, citing "credible sources from Eritrea's opposition movement as indicating that Mr. Isaak is no longer in the Eira Eiro prison because he has died".
We would be grateful if you could confirm whether Mr. Isaak continues to be held in Eira Eiro prison or whether in fact he has died in custody.
We respectfully remind you that Mr. Isaak is a journalist with dual Swedish-Eritrean citizenship who has been detained without charge or trial since his arrest in 2001. His whereabouts continue to be veiled in secrecy. This is an extremely distressing time for Mr. Isaak's family, friends and colleagues and we urge you to confirm if he is alive.
If this is indeed the case, we respectfully call on you to:
- ensure that the authorities provide information on Mr. Isaak's whereabouts and his health condition;
- allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit him;
- immediately release him, and all journalists imprisoned for their writing, from custody.
We are looking forward to your prompt reply.
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Committee to Protect Journalists
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Ethiopian Freepress Journalists' Association
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda
Index on Censorship
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Federation of Journalists
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
National Union of Somali Journalists
Observatoire pour la liberté de presse, d'édition et de création
Pacific Islands News Association
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Public Association "Journalists"
Reporters Without Borders
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International