A ‘freed’ journalist is sent back to jail

New York, December 5, 2005—
The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged by news that Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaac was returned to jail just two days after being released in mid-November. Isaac is one of 15 Eritrean journalists who have been jailed incommunicado and without charge or forced into extended military service following a September 2001 clampdown that shut down the country’s private press.

CPJ sources confirmed that Isaac, who has dual Swedish and Eritrean nationality, has been returned to jail. During his brief release, he was able to phone his wife in Sweden as well as Leif Öbrink, a close friend who heads a campaign in Sweden for his release.

Isaac was freed on November 19, and the release was originally believed to have been permanent. The release was attributed to Swedish diplomatic efforts and was confirmed by Bengt Sparre, Sweden’s envoy to Eritrea. But conflicting reports soon emerged. Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu told Agence France-Presse that Isaac had been freed temporarily merely to receive a medical check-up. It is not clear whether Isaac, in fact, received the examination.

Isaac was sent back to jail on November 21 for reasons that were not explained, Öbrink told CPJ. A second CPJ source confirmed Isaac’s return to jail.

“We’re appalled at the Eritrean government’s decision to return Dawit Isaac to jail,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “This only serves to underline the cynical disregard for human rights in Eritrea, Africa’s worst jailer of journalists.”