The International Federation of Journalists today called on the Eritrean Government to end uncertainty over the release of Dawit Isaac, reporter from the former weekly Setit, who had been locked away without trial and without access to his family and colleagues since the crackdown on the private media by Eritrean authorities in September 2001.
Dawit Isaac was released from Karcheli Prison in the Eritrean capital of Asmara on last weekend after more than four years in prison. However, he has not yet received permission to leave the country. Concerns have grown since Agence France Presse reported that Dawit had only been released to undergo medical examinations and that he could be returned to prison.
“After over four years of silence and torment we are relieved at the news that finally Dawit has been released,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “He should be allowed to leave the country without further delay in order to end confusion over the government intentions. Then we want to see that our 12 other colleagues are set free”.
Isaac was arrested on 23 September 2001 in a major police sweep five days after the suspension of all civil liberties in the country. He was one of thirteen newspaper owners, editors and journalists accused without proof by the government of being traitors and spies from Ethiopia
Dawit was first held at the No. 1 police station in Asmara before being transferred in March 2002 to the Halibet hospital where he was treated for the effects of abuse suffered in his cell. Since his arrest the Swedish authorities have on several occasions tried to visit him, but the Asmara government always refused to allow it.
The Swedish Union of Journalists, backed by the International Federation of Journalists, had been campaigning vigorously for Dawit´s release in a barrage of letters and protests. On Dawit´s fourth anniversary in September this year, the IFJ organised meetings to protest over the ongoing crackdown against the Eritrean media in Brussels, Rome, London, Stockholm, Washington, Djibouti, Nairobi and South Africa.
"We are very happy at the release of our colleague Dawit and hope that the government will now release his twelve colleagues that remain imprisoned without charge for the last four years,” said Arne Konig, Vice President of the Swedish Journalists’ Union and Chair of the European Federation of Journalists. “Their continued incarceration is a gross violation of human rights and we expect them to be released immediately.
Isaac went to Sweden in 1987 as a war refugee, but returned to the eastern African country in the 1990s to become a reporter at the independent newspaper, Setit.
Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, has previously ignored Swedish requests for Isaac's release, and it was unclear why authorities decided to set him free.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries