Today in Stockholm and tomorrow in Strasbourg, the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders and the brother of Dawit Isaac, a journalist with dual Eritrean and Swedish nationality who has been a prisoner of conscience in Eritrea for the past nine years, will tell the Swedish government and the European authorities they are legally bound to do everything possible to seek the release of this Swedish and European citizen.
A journalist with Setit, a daily newspaper closed by the Eritrean government, Isaac was a finalist candidate for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought last year. He may be on this year’s list of nominees, which will be released today.
The detained journalist’s brother, Esayas Isaac, said: “The legal opinion shows that both Sweden and the European Union are obliged to use all possible means to help their citizen, Dawit Isaac. Now is the moment of truth.”
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said: “For years, we have denounced the Eritrean government’s cruelty to imprisoned journalists and urged the European Union to react. For years, we have asked Brussels to oppose Asmara’s repressive policies by means of greater diplomatic firmness and by conditioning its assistance. Now the campaign on behalf of Dawit Isaac is acquiring a new dimension, now it will be waged on the legal front as well.”
Julliard added: “Sweden must ask itself what are the most appropriate means for protecting Isaac and obtaining his release. Carry out a state visit to Eritrea? Open a permanent embassy in Asmara with the principal mission of defending Isaac’s cause? Finally implement the sanctions imposed on Eritrea by the United Nations and stop receiving senior Eritrean officials such as Yemane Ghebreab, who was received last summer?”
At the request of Esayas Isaac, the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders, the Swedish Writers' Union, the Swedish Magazine Publisher Association, the Swedish PEN Centre, the Swedish National Press Club and the Free Dawit Committee, a legal opinion has been drawn up by two Swedish lawyers, Percy Bratt and Olle Asplund, that says Sweden and the European Union have a “positive obligation” to act to defend Isaac.
On the basis of the principle of international common law regarding diplomatic protection (jus protectionis) and articles 2, 3, 6 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life, prohibition of torture, right to a fair trial and right to freedom of expression), they establish that Sweden and the EU are required to use all possible peaceful means to defend him.
Their findings will be presented at a news conference at the Bratt & Feinsilber law firm in Stockholm at 10 a.m. today. From there, Esayas Isaac and Reporters Without Borders will go straight to the Swedish foreign ministry where they will hand in a copy of the legal opinion together with a letter to foreign minister Carl Bildt.
Tomorrow in Strasbourg, Esayas Isaac and the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders, accompanied by a group of MEPs including Swedish MEPS Olle Schmidt and Eva-Britt Svensson, will hand in a copy of the legal opinion to European Commissioner Andris Piebalgs and European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek.
They will then give a news conference at the European Parliament Press Bar at 5:30 about what they have done and the response they received from the European authorities.
Held incommunicado in Eritrea since 23 September 2001, Dawit Isaac has never been allowed the right to a trial. The Eritrean authorities refuse to recognise his Swedish citizenship and have released no information about his situation. There is a great deal of concern about his state of health.
Recent information from various Eritrean sources suggests that he was transferred to Eiraeiro prison camp but it remains impossible to know for sure where he is being held.