afrol News, 6 January - All major press freedom organisations in Sweden on a weekly basis present a protest letter to the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm, urging Eritrea to free Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak. Each week, they are thrown out of the Embassy. Mr Isaak has been held incommunicado without a trial since September 2001.
Every week, the Eritrean Embassy is petitioned by one of six different organisations - Reporters sans Frontières, The National Press Club, The Magazines Publishers' Association, The Newspaper Publishers' Association, The Swedish Union of Journalists (SFJ) and The Dawit Support Committee. "We try to hand over a petition where we express our deep concern about the fate of Dawit Isaak and his colleagues and urge Eritrea to immediate release Isaac and his colleagues," explains Arne König of SFJ.
The campaign to free the journalist of both Swedish and Eritrean nationality is clearly annoying the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm. On 14 December, for example, Susanne Björkenheim of SFJ was told nobody would receive the organisations' letter. "We know what you want and we have told you earlier that we will not receive any letters," Ms Björkenheim was told at the Embassy. She was forced to post the protest letter.
One week earlier, a representative of the Publishers' Association had tried to deliver a similar protest letter to the Eritrean representatives. The representative was thrown out of the Embassy. Only on 4 November, an SFJ representative had managed to enter the premises as the door was opened to another visitor. He left the protest letter at the reception desk.
The weekly cat and mouse game has started to annoy the Eritrean Embassy. "They are very irritated and disturbed," Mr König had noted. The Swedish press associations hope that the continued pressure finally may lead to some results in Stockholm or Asmara.
Mr Isaac, who worked for the independent newspaper 'Setit', is indeed only one out of 17 journalists detained in September 2001, as Eritrea did off with the entire independent press in a blitzkrieg action. All these journalists and editors have since that been detained on an unknown place without any charges presented against them. No trial has been initiated after two and a half years.
The case of Mr Isaac is only special because he also is a Swedish citizen and therefore has the right of protection from Swedish authorities. The government of Sweden has however been criticised for not doing enough to free Mr Isaac. Indeed, the authorities have not been able to establish anything about the whereabouts and fate of the Swedish-Eritrean journalist.
Mr König, in an interview with the African Press Network 'RAP 21', said that the last news ever heard from Mr Isaac are from 2002, when the US-based group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that he was taken to hospital after he had been tortured. Eritrean authorities however deny torture.
This summer, the Eritrean Ambassador in Sweden, Araya Desta, was interviewed by a reporter from the Swedish Broadcasting Company and assured that Isaak was well. "But we don't know," said Mr König. "Issak has been missing since April 2002, and the authorities refuse to disclose where he is."
With increased pressure from Sweden's six leading press associations, including regular reporting about Mr Isaac's case in popular Swedish media such as 'Dagens Nyheter', Swedish authorities now have started to take a clearer stance. Attempts to raise the issue directly with Eritrean authorities on a ministerial level however so far have failed, the Stockholm government holds. Protests had however been sent.
Due to the growing pressure, the Swedish activists recently got their first formal reaction from Eritrean authorities. In a letter to Mr König, the Embassy wrote that "there is no Swedish citizen detained in Eritrea. If you are referring to Mr Dawit Isaac, you are mistaken, Sir. Dawit was born, brought up and educated in Eritrea. Hence, he is first and foremost an Eritrean."
The letter further says that Mr Isaac and "his collaborators" were detained for "committing crimes against national security in times of war." It goes on saying that the activists' claim of a detention "without charge or trial" in itself was "totally wrong and misleading," which again was not in the "respect of ethics of journalism." No explanations were given.
Mr König and the other press associations welcomed the first sign of communication from Eritrean authorities and wrote back asking for a meeting. The letter to the Embassy noted that "irrespective of where" Mr Isaac was born, brought up and educated, "he is a Swedish citizen, with a right to protection for his life and safety like any other Swedish citizen."
The Swedish media groups added that the Embassy had suggested Mr Isaac had been charged and given a trial. Consequently, they asked for details on the charges, on when and where he was put on trial, the trial's outcome, Mr Isaac's whereabouts and "When can we visit them?" SFJ is still waiting for an answer and continues its weekly protest actions in the Eritrean Embassy.
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