Dawit Isaak



Journalist and writer Dawit Isaak was aged 38 at the time of his arrest in 2001. He holds dual Eritrean and Swedish nationality, is married, and has three children (in exile in Sweden). Dawit Isaak returned to Eritrea from Sweden after independence and helped launch the first independent newspaper. He was an outspoken critic of authoritarian rule in the country, and following the Eritrean authorities’ closure of all eight of the country’s independent newspapers on 18 September 2001, Isaak and at least nine other journalists were rounded up and detained.
Mr Isaak has been incommunicado since 2001 and in all that time has had no contact with relatives, no access to Swedish consular officials, and has not been charged, tried or even seen a lawyer – all flagrant violations of his human rights. Dawit Isaak's case is particularly urgent because of concerns about his health. He suffers from diabetes and is believed to have been held since 2008 at the maximum-security Eiraeiro prison, located a short distance outside the capital, Asmara. Prison conditions in Eritrea are grim, with poor sanitation and no adequate medical care. Summer temperatures regularly reach 45C (113F). Seven of Dawit Isaak's colleagues have died in captivity.

Prizes that have been awarded to Mr Isaak over the years include:

  • 2003 Reporters without Borders’ Freedom of the Press Prize
  • 2006 The Anna Politkovskaya Award
  • 2009 The Tucholsky Prize by Swedish PEN
  • 2010 The Norwegian Authors Union Freedom of Expression Prize
  • 2010 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

In meetings with government representatives in early 2013, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea asked the Eritrean authorities to confirm whether or not the journalists were still alive, their whereabouts, state of health and access to medical treatment, and why they had not yet been brought before an independent court to be charged with a crime recognisable under international law. She has yet to receive any response to these questions. In 2014, a UN resolution on the situation in Eritrea called on the authorities to “account for and release all political prisoners, including members of the “G-15” and journalists.”
Mr Dawit's lawyers argue that the Sweden and the EU, under the European Convention on Human Rights, have an obligation to ensure that the human rights of its citizens are not violated, even abroad, and that under 'silent diplomacy' they are not doing enough on Dawit's case.

For further background on his life: www.freedawit.com/english


In 2009, Dawit Isaak was one of the three finalists for the EP's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, which is awarded to individuals for their efforts on behalf of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The EU claims it “never misses an occasion to raise human rights issues with the Eritrean Government”, as it restated in Plenary during the debate on the resolution. In a statement issued in Brussels on 18 September 2014 by the spokesperson for the EEAS expressed concern about the detention of a group of 11 members of parliament and eminent members of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) since 18 September 2001 without charge, judgment or the possibility of seeing a lawyer, and about the unlawful detention since 23 September 2001 of 10 independent journalists, including Dawit Isaak. http://eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140918_02_en.pdf
The EU adopted a massive aid package in support of 'poverty reduction' in Eritrea on 11 December 2015. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-6298_en.htm. Until 2020, under the National Indicative Programme (NIP), the European Union will support two main areas - energy and governance. The programme has the full agreement of the EU's 28 Member States. Announcing the new programme on behalf of the European Union, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, said: "The EU provides development aid where it is most needed to reduce poverty and support people. In Eritrea, we have agreed to promote activities with concrete results for the population, such as the creation of job opportunities and the improvement of living conditions. At the same time, we are insisting on the full respect of human rights as part of our ongoing political dialogue with Eritrea. As in other countries, the EU engages with governments around the world to promote human rights, democracy, and people-centred development everywhere."
The European Parliament's adopted a very critical resolution on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea in March 2016. It paints a catastrophic picture of the human rights situation and mentions specifically: “Remains very concerned about the human rights situation in the country; reiterates its call to the Eritrean authorities to release immediately and unconditionally parliamentarians, journalists (including Swedish citizen Dawit Isaak, who has not been heard from since 2005), political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The resolution also heavily criticises the Commission for ignoring the Parliament's negative opinion on the EU deal. In November 2015 Parliament’s Committee on Development asked the Commission and the EEAS to take into consideration the conclusions sent to the EDF Committee on the draft National Indicative Programme for Eritrea, which referred to the scale and seriousness of the human rights violations committed by the Eritrean regime, the lack of reliability of this regime as a development cooperation partner, the pervasive corruption and the virtually total absence of transparency in public financial management in the country, and the risk of misusing EDF funds for migration management.


We call on EU stakeholders to:
  • We call on the EU that at a minimum it obtains information on Dawit's whereabouts and health;
  • The EU should obtain access to Dawit, either by one of its representatives (or that of a Member State) or by the International Committee of the Red Cross;.
  • Parliament's calls on the Commission to ensure that the funding allocated does not benefit the Eritrean Government but is strictly assigned to meeting the needs of the Eritrean people for development, democracy, human rights, good governance and security, and freedom of speech, press and assembly, should be heeded.
  • Aid, either in the 'UPR recommendations' component of EU funding, or in any other area, should be conditional to the freeing of Dawit, and other key prisoners, or tied in segments to steps towards his release, and to progress on human rights.
  • The case of Dawit should be raised in all political forums to raise public awareness about his case. His case must be raised at the highest level by the EU: by HRVP Mogherini, Commissioner Mimica, Special Representative for the Horn of Africa Mr Rondos, Special Representative for Human Rights Mr Lambrinidis, European Parliament President Mr Schulz, EU Heads of State and Foreign Ministers etc...
  • The European Parliament should continuously, and at regular intervals, follow-up on its resolution and keep the EEAS and EC accountable for progress;
  • EP could award the Sakharov Prize to Dawit Isaak