On Thursday, the Swedish Prime Minister called on Eritrea to release a Swedish-Eritrean journalist who had been held without charge for two decades, while a non-governmental organization requested Swedish authorities to investigate human rights violations in the case.
Dawit Isaak was part of a group of about two dozen senior cabinet ministers, members of parliament and independent journalists who were arrested in a draconian purges in the East African country in September 2001.
“Today it is 20 years since Dawit Isaak was arrested in Eritrea. It is an incredibly long time,” says Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in a post to social media.
“My government and several previous governments have worked intensively on the fall of Dawit. Our work so far has not yielded the results we wanted, but we will never give up,” Lofven added.
At the same time, the press law group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) renewed a call for Swedish prosecutors to investigate crimes against humanity in the case.
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A Swedish law adopted in 2014 made it possible to prosecute such crimes even if they were committed elsewhere in the world.
A similar petition was submitted to Swedish authorities in October last year, but prosecutors refused to initiate a case and claimed that there were practical obstacles to the investigation even though there was reason to believe that a crime had been committed.
“RSF calls on the prosecution to take its international responsibility and launch a preliminary investigation into crimes against humanity in the case of Dawit Isaacs,” the group said in a statement on Thursday.
Isaac was arrested on September 23, 2001, shortly after the Eritrean newspaper he founded, Setit, published articles calling for political reform.
He had fled to Sweden in 1987 during Eritrea’s struggle against Ethiopia, which eventually led to independence in 1993. He returned in 2001 to help shape the media landscape.
The RSF ranks Eritrea as the world’s most repressive country in terms of press freedom, ahead of North Korea and Turkmenistan.