Dawit Isaak (born 27 October 1964) is a Swedish-Eritrean playwright, journalist and writer. Isaak has been held in Eritrean prison since 2001 without trial . Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and has called for his immediate and unconditional release. He is the only Swedish citizen held as a prisoner of conscience.
Isaak came to Sweden in August 1987 and he became a Swedish citizen on 4 November 1992. Isaak lived in the west coast city of Gothenburg. When Eritrea gained independence, Isaak returned to his native country, got married and had children. He began work as a reporter for the country’s first independent newspaper, Setit. Eventually, he became a part-owner of the newspaper.
On 23 September 2001, Isaak was arrested in his home in Asmara, Eritrea. Concurrently, ten other independent journalists and eleven prominent reformist politicians of the so-called G-15 were arrested, ostensibly for demanding democratic reforms in a series of letters to president Isayas Afeworki. The independent press, including the Setit newspaper, had covered the confrontation between the president and the reformers.
In April 2002, CPJ, the Committee to Protect Journalists, reported that Isaak was hospitalized due to torture. The Eritrean government denied that he has been tortured, but did not allow anyone to visit him. Isaak had not been tried before a court. Because he held dual Swedish and Eritrean citizenship, Swedish authorities began working for his release, using “quiet diplomacy” according to government sources.
On 19 November 2005, Isaak was released from jail, and according to official Eritrean sources, he was released only to see a doctor. After only two days of freedom, and while on his way to the hospital, Isaak was imprisoned again. He is believed to be held in Carchele prison in central Asmara.
Every week, a number of organisations, including Reporters Without Borders and the National Press Club, petition the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm to free Isaak.
On 27 March 2009, four of the five largest newspapers in Sweden, Aftonbladet, Expressen, Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet, featured a plea for the release of Isaak on their first pages. In addition, the five newspapers will feature joint reports on Isaak’s situation, and a joint petition which was handed over to the Eritrean Embassy in Stockholm on 4 May. By 4 May, 209,963 people had signed the petition.
On 26 May 2009, during an interview with the Swedish TV4 (channel 4) the president of Eritrea dismissed the issue altogether by saying “We will not have any trial and we will not free him. We know how to handle his kind.” and “To me, Sweden is irrelevant. The Swedish government has nothing to do with us.”
The “quiet diplomacy” method that the Swedish authorities have employed to work for Isaak’s release has been criticised by Swedish media, and the president of the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders, Jesper Bengtsson, made a statement in April 2010, saying that “[i]t is a disgrace that Dawit remains in prison and it is remarkable that the Swedish government does not try harder to get him released.”