Reporters Without Borders has written to the European Union’s 25 foreign ministers asking them to raise the issue of Eritrea’s imprisoned journalists at a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 12 December in Brussels, which will focus on Africa, and calling for the EU to do everything possible to obtain their release.
“A development last month served as a reminder of how merciless President Issaias Afeworki’s government can be towards those it views as its opponents,” the letter said. “Dawit Isaac, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality and founder of the now-banned weekly Setit, was released on 19 November after four years in prison. He was able to telephone his wife and friends who have found refuge in Sweden, telling them he had just been freed from Karcheli prison in Asmara and would soon be with them. But to everyone’s amazement, the authorities returned him to prison two days later, on 21 November, for still unclear reasons.”
Isaac, who has had Swedish nationality since 1992, was arrested on 23 September 2001 in the course of the major police raids that followed the suspension of all civil liberties five days earlier. Now aged 41, married and the father of three children, he was one of ten newspaper publishers, editors and leading journalists to be rounded up along with politicians who had criticised the government.
“Isaac’s story suggests Eritrea is plunging headlong into further repression in which its people will be the only ones to suffer,” the letter continued. “The European Union has the ability to make the government in Asmara understand that this course is unacceptable. For this reason, we urge the European foreign ministers to do everything in their power to obtain justice, at least, for these unfortunate journalists and help Eritrea emerge from the darkness in which it is sinking further year by year.”
Independent since 1993, Eritrea is Africa’s youngest country. For the past four years, it has also been the continent’s biggest prison for the press. At least 13 journalists are being held in undisclosed locations somewhere in Eritrea without ever having appeared in court or been able to talk to a lawyer or contact their families. The regime claims they are traitors, Ethiopian spies or deserters. It is not known if they are still alive.