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Imprisoned Swedish-Eritrean journalist's case referred to African human rights panel

(RSF/IFEX) - On 27 October 2012, three European jurists referred the case of imprisoned Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaac to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. That date also marked the journalist's 48th birthday, the 12th birthday in succession that he has spent in an Eritrean jail.

The Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders issued the following press release about the initiative:

Today, 27 October 2012, Dawit Isaac turns 48.

It is his twelfth birthday in an Eritrean prison.

The struggle to free him goes on.

His case is now being brought to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights.

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the initiative by jurists Jesús Alcalá, Percy Bratt and Prisca Orsonneau. They have sent a legal writ to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights in The Gambia. The Commission protects and promotes human rights within the African Union. This means that the three jurists are taking the case further from last year, when they filed a writ of Habeas corpus for Dawit Isaac with the Eritrean High Court.

In an earlier case before the African Commission the Eritrean government stated that its own court system is independent and can handle the case of Dawit Isaac and others. It was also stated before the Commission that Habeas corpus is a principle in place in the country as a protection from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.

But the High Court of Asmara has failed to react to the writ of Habeas Corpus for Dawit Isaac. Therefore the case is now being brought to the African Commission. Dawit Isaac's imprisonment runs counter to both Eritrean law and several African and international conventions. Several of Dawit Isaac's colleagues have died in prison already. In August Reporters Without Borders reported that three more had perished: Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab and Wedi Itay.

In an article published on 26 October 2012 in the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, the three jurists wrote:

We are running out of time and Dawit Isaac runs the risk of ending up like his colleagues.

It is still possible for the Eritrean High Court to demand that the authorities bring Dawit Isaac from prison and present him.

But instead of doing this Eritrea may now be forced into an embarrassing process before the African Commission. Lately the Eritrean regime has come under growing criticism from other African countries. Eritrea's actions harm the reputation of the entire continent.

There is a simple way to stop that.

All that Eritrea has to do is to abide by its own laws and release Dawit Isaac.

The writ of Habeas corpus in 2011 was supported by editors from 21 European news organisations. Among them El País, Spiegelonline, Gazeta Wyborzca, Frankfurter Rundschau, TAZ, Stuttgarter Zeitung, Berliner Zeitung, Dagens Nyheter, Aftonbladet, Aftenposten, Verdens Gang, Helsingin Sanomat, Iltalehti, Berlingske and BT.