New York, November 21, 2005— The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaac, who had been jailed without charge since a government crackdown closed the entire independent press in September 2001. Isaac has dual Eritrean and Swedish citizenship. Fourteen journalists remain in Eritrea’s secret jails or otherwise deprived of their liberty, according to CPJ research.
“We are delighted that Isaac has been released after all these years of detention without trial,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ Executive Director. “But Eritrea remains Africa’s worst jailer of journalists. We will not forget the fourteen other journalists who have been imprisoned without charge or forced into extended military service.”
Leif Öbrink, a close friend who headed a campaign to free Isaac, told CPJ he had spoken to him by telephone. “He expressed his happiness to be free and his thanks to all those who campaigned for him,” said Öbrink. But he said they were not able to discuss Isaac’s prison conditions or whether he had information about the other jailed journalists.
Öbrink said he believed Swedish diplomatic pressure had helped secure Isaac’s release, and that a Swedish diplomat was currently in the Eritrean capital Asmara trying to secure Isaac’s safe passage to Sweden to join his wife, whom he had also called.
“She was so happy, so relieved,” Öbrink said. “We have not seen her smile like that for four years.” Isaac has three children, who are also in Sweden.
Isaac went to Sweden in 1987 as a war refugee, the Associated Press reported, but returned to his country in the 1990s to become co-owner and reporter at the independent newspaper Setit. During the September 2001 crackdown, Eritrean authorities arrested at least 10 journalists, accusing them variously of avoiding the military draft, threatening national security, and failing to observe licensing requirements. But CPJ research indicates that the crackdown was motivated by political anxiety ahead of elections which were later cancelled.
For more information on Eritrea’s jailed journalists, see CPJ’s alert of September 16.