Isaac, owner and editor of the weekly paper Setit, was arrested during a major crackdown in September 2001 when the regime outlawed the privately-owned press and threw most of the country’s leading journalists in prison. He has been a Swedish citizen since the 1980s and is married with three children.
He was first held at the main police station in the capital, Asmara, and was transferred in March 2002 to the Halibet hospital after being tortured. Swedish officials have several times tried to visit him but the regime has refused permission, saying he is "OK" and accusing him and the other jailed journalists of being "national traitors."
When the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia ended in 2000, top figures in the ruling party called for democratic reforms and in October that year, exiled Eritrean students urged President Issaias Afeworki, in a "Berlin Manifesto," to open up the country’s institutions and allow greater freedom of expression.
The independent media, including Setit, printed appeals for democracy in May 2001 by 15 leaders of the ruling Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), including a former foreign minister and an ex-vice-president. The regime struck back on 18 September 2001 (while the eyes of the world were on the attacks in the US of a week earlier) by cracking down on the 15 and "suspending" all privately-owned media. Eleven of the group were arrested over several days, along with the capital’s leading journalists, including Isaac.
After staging a hunger strike in April 2002, 10 of the imprisoned journalists were transferred to secret places of detention and nothing has been heard of them since. Their families have not been allowed to visit them.