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.”


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