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Demand freedom for Dawit Isaak

Twenty-third September marks 10 years since the Swedish-Eritrean journalist and writer Dawit Isaak was imprisoned in Eritrea. His crime? He worked for an independent newspaper that reported on demands for democratic reforms. There has never been a trial, a charge or a sentence against him. IFEX members and supporters are asking that you take part in a week of action to demand his freedom.

According to Swedish author and historian Peter Englund, the treatment of prisoners in Eritrea is ruthless. "Torture is not unusual. Some prisoners are locked in catacombs, others in unventilated freight containers where temperatures can reach fifty degrees Celsius. They are literally enchained, 23 hours a day, forbidden visitors or even contact with each other… Some jails are scarcely more than death camps where people are taken, never to return. To die, be buried and forgotten," he wrote for the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. (Isaak won WAN-IFRA's Golden Pen of Freedom prize this year.)

One of these camps is Eira Eiro, north of Asmara - and where Isaak is believed to be detained, say IFEX members. Out of more than 30 prisoners held there, 15 are believed to have died. "There is reason to fear for Dawit Isaak's life," said Englund.

Eritrea is the world's leading jailer of journalists. According to PEN International, at least 15 other Eritreans are in jail for their writings.

Meanwhile, Sweden has been criticised for its "quiet diplomacy" method to work for Isaak's release. In July 2011, Isaac's younger brother, Esayas Isaac, who lives in Sweden and has run a tireless campaign to free him, 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.

Conversely, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has said the country's goal was to have Isaac released on humanitarian grounds rather than stand trial.

The Free Dawit campaign, co-founded by Esayas, is putting pressure on both the Swedish and Eritrean governments to do more for Isaak's release. Please sign their petition, which has already nearly 21,000 names.

For those wanting to do more, PEN International has planned a week of actions, ranging from sending protest letters to organising "Free Dawit" demos outside the Eritrean embassy in your country.

Tens years on, Dawit Isaac still detained incommunicado: PEN calls for a week of action (19-23 September 2011)
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