February 27, 2009

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

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,300 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 well-being of Eritrean-Swedish journalist and author Dawit Isaac.

According to our information, Dawit Isaac, owner of the now defunct weekly newspaper Setit, who has been detained incommunicado without charge for over seven years, was transferred to a military hospital operated by the Eritrean Air Force on January 11, 2009. He was said to be receiving medical treatment for an unspecified condition, and his current condition is unknown.  There are ongoing concerns regarding severe ill treatment, possible torture, poor health and lack of access to medical care.

Isaac was one of nine print journalists arrested on September 23, 2001, during the crackdown on the private press in which all eight independent newspapers were closed down. Four of these journalists have died in custody. The only charges brought against the remaining five have been uncorroborated allegations by the Eritrean government that the journalists were “traitors.” 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 remain detained incommunicado without charge or trial.

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. We therefore urge the government to release details regarding his health status, medical treatment and whereabouts as a matter of urgency, and call for the immediate and unconditional release of Isaac and 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, N.W.,
Washington, D.C. 20009
Fax: (202) 319-1304

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