Dawit Isaak

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Dawit Isaak
Born (1964-10-28) 28 October 1964 (age 57)
Asmara, Eritrea
OccupationPlaywright, journalist and writer
CitizenshipEritrean, Swedish
Notable worksHope
Notable awardsNorwegian Freedom of Expression Prize (2009)

Dawit Isaak (born 28 October 1964) is a Swedish-Eritrean playwright, journalist and writer, who has been held in prison in Eritrea since 2001 without trial and is considered a traitor by the Eritrean government.[1] Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and has called for his immediate and unconditional release.[2] For years, he was the only Swedish citizen held as a prisoner of conscience[1] (he is now joined by the Swedish citizen and publicist Gui Minhai).

Asylum and Swedish citizenship[edit]

Isaak came to Sweden in August 1987, where he settled in the west coast city of Gothenburg and became a Swedish citizen on 4 November 1992. When Eritrea gained independence, Isaak returned to his native country, married and had children. He began working as a reporter for the country's first independent newspaper, Setit. Eventually, he became a part-owner of the newspaper.[1]

Possible replica of the prison cell of Dawit Isaak, exhibited at Mediedagarna i Göteborg (on Svenska Mässan), March 2015[3]


On 23 September 2001, Isaak was arrested in his home in Asmara, Eritrea. At the same time, ten other independent journalists and eleven prominent reformist politicians of the so-called G-15 were arrested, ostensibly for demanding democratic reforms in a series of letters to President Isayas Afeworki. The independent press, including the Setit newspaper, had covered the confrontation between the president and the reformers.

In April 2002, CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, reported that Isaak was hospitalized due to torture. The Eritrean government denied that he has been tortured, but did not allow anyone to visit him. Isaak had not been tried before a court. Because he held dual Swedish and Eritrean citizenship, Swedish authorities began working for his release, using "silent diplomacy" according to government sources.[4]

On 19 November 2005, Isaak was released from jail, and according to official Eritrean sources, he was released only to see a doctor. After only two days of freedom, and while on his way to the hospital, Isaak was imprisoned again. He is believed to be held in Carchele prison in central Asmara.[5]

Every week, a number of organizations, including Reporters Without Borders and the National Press Club, petition the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm to free Isaak.[6]

On 27 March 2009, four of the five largest newspapers in Sweden, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, featured a plea for the release of Isaak on their front pages. In addition, the five newspapers will feature joint reports on Isaak's situation, and a joint petition was handed over to the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm on 4 May.[7][8] By 4 May, 209,963 people had signed the petition.[9]

On 26 May 2009, during an interview with the Swedish TV4 (channel 4) the president of Eritrea dismissed the case altogether with the words "We will not have any trial and we will not free him. We know how to handle his kind." and "To me, Sweden is irrelevant. The Swedish government has nothing to do with us."[10]

The "silent diplomacy" method that the Swedish authorities have employed to work for Isaak's release has been criticized by the Swedish media, and the president of the Swedish branch of Reporters Without Borders, Jesper Bengtsson, issued a statement in April 2010, saying that "[i]t is a disgrace that Dawit remains in prison and it is remarkable that the Swedish government does not try harder to get him released."[11]

After the release of the Albanian-American pilot James Berisha, the 1st Deputy Prime Minister of Kosovo, Behgjet Pacolli, will start a new mission in Eritrea for the release of Isaak.[12]

Rumors about death[edit]

On several occasions, rumors have circulated that Isaak is no longer alive, the most recent of which was on 27 October 2011, his 47th birthday, when Swedish commercial radio channel "Radio 1" claimed that Dawit Isaak could well be dead.[13][14] In April 2012, rumours of his death once again began circulating when several Eritrean politicians stated that he had died in prison. When a government official from Eritrea was confronted about the rumours during an interview in Sweden, he avoided the question and refused to answer.[citation needed]




  1. ^ a b c "Sveriges ende samvetsfånge Dawit Isaak - en bakgrund". Sveriges Radio. 24 March 2009. Archived from the original on 27 January 2011. Retrieved 5 July 2011.
  2. ^ "Annual Report 2011". Amnesty International. 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2011.
  3. ^ "Varmt tack till er som var med under Meg!". freedawit.com. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  4. ^ Hoff, Simon (2 November 2007). "Öppet hus för gymnasielärare" (in Swedish). Government of Sweden. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  5. ^ "Livstecken från Dawit" (in Swedish). Mothugg. 11 March 2005. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  6. ^ "Weekly protests against Eritrea to free journalist". afrol News. 6 January 2007. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  7. ^ Larsson, Thorbjörn; Mattsson, Thomas; Samuelsson, Lena K; Helin, Jan; Jungkvist, Kalle (26 March 2009). "Free Dawit Isaak: Five Swedish editors-in-chief join forces to get the journalist Dawit Isaak free". Dagens Nyheter. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  8. ^ Carlbom, Mats (4 May 2009). "Namnunderskrifterna överlämnade". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). Archived from the original on 9 June 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  9. ^ "Totalt skrev nästan 210.000 personer under". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). 4 May 2009. Archived from the original on 8 June 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  10. ^ "Dawit Isaak friges inte". Sydsvenskan (in Swedish). Tidningarnas Telegrambyrå. 26 May 2009. Archived from the original on 28 May 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  11. ^ "Witness Account of Imprisoned Dawit Isaak". Sveriges Radio. 7 April 2010. Retrieved 30 December 2010.
  12. ^ Mision i ri i Pacollit në Eritre, KosovaTimes (in Albanian) 2012-02-2012
  13. ^ Svahn, Clas (27 October 2011). "Dawit Isaak är flyttad från fängelset". Dagens Nyheter (in Swedish). Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  14. ^ "Sources: Swedish journalist died in Eritrean prisons" (in Norwegian). vg.no. Associated Press. 27 October 2011. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  15. ^ "Eritrean-born journalist Dawit Isaak awarded UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2017". UNESCO. 30 March 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2017.
  16. ^ "Hopp : historien om Moses och Mannas kärlek & andra texter / Dawit Isaak ; (redaktörer: Björn Tunbäck och Swante Weyler ; utgiven i samarbete med Alfabeta ...)", libris.se. Retrieved 29 May 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • Karlsson, Johan; Sjöberg, Rickard (2004). Dawit och friheten: om den svenske samvetsfången och Eritreas inställda demokratisering (in Swedish). Stockholm: Silc Publishing House. ISBN 91-974771-7-6.

External links[edit]