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Power of the PEN

DAWIT: The need to write the truth.

DAWIT: The need to write the truth.   | Photo Credit: mail pic

Isaak took on the President Isaias Afewerki who pulled all stops to subdue him. Nonetheless, he has become a journalist to reckon with.

The life of a journalist is no cakewalk. Often, they endure harassment and even threats to life in their quest to uncover the truth and write about it. One such individual is the imprisoned Eritrean-Swedish journalist, Dawit Isaak. He was awarded the 2017 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in recognition of his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.

He has been in prison in Eritrea since 2001 without trial and is considered a traitor by the Eritrean government. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and has called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Born on October 27, 1964, Isaak grew up with five siblings. While in elementary school he began to write plays. As an adult, he authored and published several books. Eritrea, deemed part of Ethiopia since World War II, struggled for independence and due to this conflict, Isaak fled to Sweden in 1985. Between 1985 and 1992, Isaak was active in the Eritrean diaspora, where members shared the dream of a free and democratic country. He became a Swedish citizen in 1992. When Eritrea became independent the following year, he returned to the capitol city of Asmara and married.

In 1997, he along with other journalists, launched “Setit”, which becomes Eritrea’s first independent newspaper. In 2001, a group of politicians and ministers, later named as “G-15”, criticised President Isaias Afewerki’s running of the country. In a series of letters, they demanded that elections be held as promised and the proposed constitution be implemented. Isaak reported this in his newspaper, Setit.


On September 23, 2001, two security officers arrested Isaak along with most of the G-15 members without trial, as per President Afewerki’s orders. Isaak has been released for short intervals to seek medical help. But, he continues to remain imprisoned. There were questions raised about whether or not he was alive.

In 2011, three attorneys, supported by Reporters without Borders, submitted a Habeas Corpus petition to an Eritrean special court. When the Eritrean court did not act on the petition, the attorneys turned to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), for further action.

On May 10, 2013, a former prison officer confirmed in Expressen, a Swedish newspaper that Isaak was alive and “Is Okay”.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 5:07:23 PM |

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