Eritrea : Seized by RSF and its partners, UN Working Group calls for the immediate release of journalist Dawit Isaak, detained for more than 20 years

Dawit Isaak Erythrea press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the decision of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to call on the Eritrean government to reveal the whereabouts of journalist Dawit Isaak, to comment on his health conditions, and to release him immediately. The decision follows a complaint filed by RSF and an international coalition of NGOs. Dawit Isaak was arrested in 2001, along with at least 10 other independent journalists, some of whom have already died in jail. They are the longest  detained journalists in the world, held without trial.

Formally seized by RSF and its partners, the UN Working Group first confirms the completely unlawful detention of journalist Dawit Isaak that must immediately be stopped. The silence of Eritrean authorities on the fate and situation of a journalist they have detained for more than twenty years is unbearable and unacceptable. The UN also clearly calls on them to reveal the whereabouts of the journalist and release him immediately and unconditionally. It is such an appeal that RSF reiterates with the greatest force today alongside the United Nations.

Antoine Bernard
RSF’s Advocacy and Assistance Director

The UN Human Rights Council Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published on 26 July 2023, an opinion on the case of Swedish-Eritrean citizen, Dawit Isaak, the longest detained journalist in the world. 

This comes after vigorous advocacy on his behalf by an international coalition of leading NGOs and human rights organizations, experts, advocates, and journalists. Along with Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBHARI), Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA), PEN International, Defend Defenders, Human Rights Foundation (HRF), and Mr. Isaak’s Swedish legal counsel, the coalition led by the the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights filed a complaint last year with the Working Group calling for accountability for the Eritrean government’s gross human rights violations against Mr. Isaak and his colleagues, and their immediate and unconditional release. 

The Working Group concluded, based on our filing, that Mr. Isaak’s detention is arbitrary and in violation of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Further, it found that the deplorable conditions under which Mr. Isaak has been held for over two decades are cause for the “utmost concern” and called on the Eritrean government to immediately reveal the whereabouts and physical condition of Mr. Isaak and to unconditionally release him. 

The Working Group also “refers the present case to the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association for appropriate action.” 

“We welcome with great hope the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s opinion on Dawit Isaak, the emblematic case study of the global assault on media freedom. This important step casts a potentially life-saving spotlight on Mr. Isaak and his colleagues, and exposes the gross and systematic human rights violations of a corrupt and criminal Eritrean regime. We call on the Eritrean government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Isaak and his colleagues, and on the international community to hold the regime accountable. We will not relent until justice is done.” 

Judith Abitan, RWCHR Executive Director. 



  • Eritrean authorities arbitrarily detained Mr. Isaak more than 20 years ago. 
  • At the time, he was working for Eritrea’s first independent newspaper, Setit. 
  • The journalists were arrested without charge or trial, and have been held incommunicado without access to family, consular assistance, or the right to legal counsel. 
  • Mr. Isaak was arrested along with at least ten other independent journalists, some of whom have already died in detention. 
  •  Mr. Isaak and his colleagues are the longest detained journalists in the world. 
  •  Mr. Isaak is a dual Swedish-Eritrean citizen. 


The pain and plight of Dawit Isaak and his colleagues, over the past two decades, is a looking glass into the Eritrean government’s pervasive culture of impunity, and a case study of the global assault on media freedom. In light of the Eritrean government’s ongoing assault on fundamental rights and freedoms, and its suppression of media freedom and persecution of journalists, we urge the international community to finally hold the Eritrean regime accountable, and to impose targeted Magnitsky sanctions against the senior officials responsible for these crimes until such time as Mr. Isaak and his colleagues are released. 

180/ 180
Score : 16.64
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