September 22, 2011

His Excellency Issayas Afewerki
Office of the President
P O Box 257
Asmara, Eritrea
Fax: + 2911 125123

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our deep concern regarding the decade-long imprisonment of Eritrean-Swedish journalist, author, and Finnish and Swedish PEN Honorary Member Dawit Isaac.

According to our information, Dawit Isaac has been held without charge since September 23, 2001, following a crackdown on Eritrea’s private press that saw all eight of the country’s independent newspapers closed down and nine journalists imprisoned. The most recent reports indicate that Isaac is being held at the Eiraeiro maximum security prison camp, 10 miles north of the capital Asmara, along with a number of other detained journalists. They are reportedly not allowed any contact with each other or the outside world, are routinely shackled, and receive almost no medical care. Some are said to be held in metal containers or underground cells in temperatures of around 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). The only accusations made against them have been uncorroborated allegations by the authorities that the journalists were “traitors.” Isaac has a diabetic condition that requires medical supervision, and is currently in poor physical and mental health. Concerns for his well-being are mounting.

We understand that in July 2011, Isaac’s younger brother, Esayas Isaac, who lives in Sweden, filed a writ of habeas corpus with Eritrea’s Supreme Court calling for information on the journalist’s location and a review of his imprisonment.

Isaac is the owner of the now defunct weekly newspaper Setit, and was one of nine print journalists arrested on September 23, 2001. Four of these journalists have since died in custody. Although the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights of the African Union ruled that the detention of the journalists was arbitrary and unlawful and called on the Eritrean government to release and compensate the detainees in May 2007, all five surviving journalists remain detained without charge or trial. Isaac has been hospitalized several times since his imprisonment, including in 2002 for treatment for injuries sustained through torture. In November 2005, Isaac, who holds dual Swedish-Eritrean citizenship, was briefly released for a medical check-up and to call his family and friends following pressure by groups in Sweden. There are, however, ongoing concerns about severe ill-treatment, possible torture, poor health, and lack of access to medical care while in prison.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned by reports regarding Dawit Isaac’s well-being and believes that he is being held solely for his writings in violation of his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Eritrea is a signatory. We therefore urge the government to release details regarding his health status, medical treatment, and whereabouts as a matter of urgency, and call for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all other detained journalists in accordance with the 2007 African Commission on Human and People’s Rights ruling.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H. E. Ghirmai Ghebremariam
Ambassador of Eritrea to the United States
Embassy of Eritrea
1708 New Hampshire Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 319-1304

>> Back to Rapid Action