Complaint filed with UN working group about Dawit Isaak, journalist held in Eritrea
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has filed a joint complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) about Dawit Isaak, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality who has been detained without trial in Eritrea for more than 20 years.
“Dawit Isaak and those colleagues who, like him, were arrested in 2001 are now the world’s longest held journalists, while Eritrea has been at the bottom of our World Press Freedom Index for the past two decades,” said Antoine Bernard, RSF’s director for advocacy and assistance. “By means of this complaint, we are counting on the UN to put pressure on the Eritrean government to provide information about this journalist’s state of health and place of detention, and to finally agree to release him.”
Filed with the UNWGAD on 21 July by RSF and Canada’s Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, the complaint calls on the Eritrean government to render accounts for detaining
Isaak without trial ever since his arrest in September 2001, and for its other flagrant violations of his rights. According to RSF, at least ten other colleagues of Isaak are also detained arbitrarily in Eritrea.
As well as calling for Isaak’s immediate and unconditional release, RSF and the complaint’s other signatories – who include PEN International, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Defend Defenders – urge the government to reveal where the detained journalists are being held and to provide information about their state of health.
The UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Mohamed Babiker, said: “This is an emblematic case, reflecting not only the situation of Dawit Isaak and his journalist colleagues, who have been subjected to arbitrary detention since 2001, but also that of hundreds of prisoners in Eritrea languishing in jails without due process of law for their real or perceived criticism of the government.”
The cofounder of Eritrea’s first independent newspaper, Isaak was arrested at his home in the capital, Asmara, on 23 September 2001, during a round-up of the government’s opponents and critics of its evolution into a dictatorship. Where and in what conditions Isaak and the other detained journalists are being held has been kept secret ever since.
In the summer of 2021, the United Nations reported that it had obtained evidence dating back to September 2020 that Isaak was still alive and was being held in Eiraeiro prison. It was the first sign of life in seven years.
For the past two decades, RSF has not stopped seeking the release of Isaak and his colleagues. In 2020, RSF filed a complaint with the Swedish judicial system calling for an investigation into the “crimes against humanity” inflicted on Isaak, including torture, abduction and enforced disappearance, and naming eight suspects, including Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s president since 1993. The Swedish prosecutor’s office eventually refused to open any such investigation on the grounds that it would be impossible to carry out. The case has also been referred to other courts and bodies, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The complaint’s signatories:
- Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR)
- Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
- Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
- International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
- Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA)
- PEN International
- Defend Defenders
- M. Jesús Alcalá (Swedish lawyer)
- M. Percy Bratt (Swedish lawyer)