Reporters Without Borders welcomed with jubilation the release of Dawit Isaac, proprietor of the former weekly Setit, who has been held secretly since 23 September 2001 by the African continent’s most authoritarian regime.
The press freedom organisation said however that the good news was tempered by the fact that 12 other journalists have been held somewhere in the country for more than four years without trial and completely cut off from the outside world.
“The interminable torment the Eritrean government has inflicted on Dawit Isaac has finally ended,” said Reporters Without Borders. “We share in the happiness and relief of his friends and family after more than four years of silence and distress.”
Dawit Isaac, 41, who has been a Swedish citizen since the 1980s, was released on the morning of 19 November 2005 from Karcheli Prison in the Eritrean capital of Asmara. He was able to telephone his wife, who lives in Sweden, as well as Leif Öbrink, Chairman of the “Free Dawit Isaak” campaign.
He told them he was feeling “really well” and that he intended to join them in Europe as soon as possible. Leif Öbrink said he believed his friend’s release had been achieved with the help of Sweden’s ambassador in Asmara, Bengt Sparre.
Dawit Isaac was arrested on 23 September 2001, in a major police sweep five days after the suspension of all civil liberties in the country. The father of three children was one of ten newspaper owners, editors and journalists accused without proof by the government of being “traitors” and “spies” from Ethiopia. He 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.
“It is painful to think that 12 of his colleagues are still being held hostage by the iron regime of President Issaias Afeworki,” said Reporters Without Borders. “Nothing can justify the fact that the journalistic elite of the country, that did not have the chance to flee in time, should still be missing inside Eritrean jails.
“We hope that the release of our friend Dawit Isaac will serve to show the international community what it costs to make democratic claims in Asmara and that it is urgent that his colleagues who are still being held prisoner should be released as soon as possible.”