Today is journalist Dawit Isaac’s birthday. It is the tenth he has spent in prison. Without any friends or family, without candles and without a birthday cake, he is alone again, more isolated than ever, in a small, dirty cell that may be in the Eiraeiro detention centre or may be somewhere else, no one knows.
But instead of a cake, Dawit can count on the support of his friends. And on the support of a few organizations such as the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), which today declared him the winner of its 2011 Golden Pen of Freedom Award.
When he was arrested nine years ago, he almost certainly did not imagine he would still be in prison on his 46th birthday. He must have thought his innocence would have been proved long ago. But innocent of what ? The reasons for his detention are still unknown. The Eritrean authorities just say: “He is a traitor in Ethiopia’s pay.”
His crime was to have printed a letter in his now-closed daily Setit – a letter written by a group of government ministers and generals calling for democratization in Eritrea. He no doubt thought that the fact that he has Swedish as well as Eritrean citizenship would protect him from the despotism and injustice that prevails in the country of his birth. But the “silent diplomacy” which the Swedish government claims to pursue with Eritrea remains ineffective.
His brother, Esayas Isaac, refuses to remain silent. He is always busy in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe alerting public opinion about his journalist brother’s fate and trying to get the Swedish government to take action.
With the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders, represented by Björn Tunbäck, he organised a news conference today at the University of Gothenburg. It was attended by the Swedish National Press Club, the University of Gothenburg Foreign Policy Association and former Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson, who has long been critical of the government’s silent diplomacy. Carin Norberg of the Nordic Africa Institute and exiled Eritrean journalist Meron Estifanos also spoke.
Esayas Isaac and Reporters Without Borders continue to call for action by Sweden and the European authorities and criticize their passivity and lack of initiative. Last week, they presented the Swedish government and the European Parliament in Strasbourg with a legal opinion emphasizing that Sweden and the European Union have a “positive obligation” to do everything possible to protect Dawit.