Sunday morning, September 23, 2001 arrested Dawit Isaak security police in his home in the Eritrean capital Asmara. He had written about reformist politicians’ criticism of the regime in his newspaper – and was one of a number of politicians and journalists who were simultaneously imprisoned in President Isaiah Afewerki’s crackdown on the opposition.
Since then, 7,000 days have passed, more than 19 years, and the Swedish-Eritrean journalist and author is extra imprisoned. His family and friends are fighting together with media and human rights organizations for his release. They are convinced that he is alive, but a release now works more remotely than in a long time.
Civil war in Ethiopia
The peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia two years ago after decades of war also aroused optimism about the improved situation of the thousands of political prisoners. But recently civil war broke out in Ethiopia – where Eritrea is also involved – and no one believes anymore that the Eritrean regime, one of the world’s worst dictatorships, has a view on human rights in the current situation.
– 7,000 days, this is a day of sorrow. The years go by, the days tick, he has missed so much in life. But hope is the last thing that comes over one, says brother Esayas Isaak in Gothenburg.
– I think of my brother every day. We are always worried about his physical and mental health. But now covid-19 is increasing that concern, he says.
Grew up without dad
During the 7,000 days, Dawit Isaaks has turned 56 and his three children have grown up without him making them grow up.
The daughter Bethlehem Isaak told in her gripping “Summer” program in July about growing up without the father. About how she remembers the hugs she got when he picked her up at the preschool in Asmara. About how he always stood up for his children and how he encouraged them to read books.
The last time she saw him was in 2002 in a prison hospital in Eritrea.
– For many years I forced myself to play old videos to remember how his voice sounds. I had to quickly stick to something that was real. In those moments we were together, she told in “Summer in P1”.
“Never without hope”
Earlier this year, Angered’s Theater performed a play based on her book about what it is like to be the daughter of Dawit Isaak.
Nor does Bethlehem Isaac give up hope. She has just posted a post on Instagram that she met Dilya, and a woman whose brother has been imprisoned for 19 years in Uzbekistan – and is now free. The brother’s fate is depicted in the new film “Only the devil lives without hope”.
She writes how much she identifies with Dilya as Has fought in tears, sadness, despair and anger but never without hope”.
“I recognized myself so much, and it is certainly nice that you are not alone in fighting for freedom after all”, writes Bethlehem Isaak on Instagram.
Convinced he was alive
Relatives and others who are committed to Dawit Isaak are convinced that he is alive. Eritrean ministers and other representatives have repeatedly said he is alive. In his “Summer” program, Bethlehem Isaac quickly said, “Yes, my father lives,” but would say no more with reference to “silent diplomacy.”
– We got new indications that he is alive this spring. This is credible information. And we must believe in them, otherwise we can not continue to work, says Leif Öbrink, chairman of Free Dawit Support Group.
– I suffer with Dawit and the family. This means that I can succeed in helping him to be free during these 7,000 days, he says.
Also the journalist and author Martin Schibbye, who published the book last year “The Hunt for Dawit”, emphasizes that there are new sure signs that Dawit Isaak has been seen alive. He says Eritrea would certainly have announced if he had died, “in order not to keep the issue alive”.
“Paid the highest price”
According to Schibbye, many hoped that the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2018 could drive development in Eritrea in a democratic direction and thus lead to the release of political prisoners. Today, however, the Eritrean regime’s main focus is on the recent flare-up at the country’s border, but “beyond the conflict lives hope,” he says.
– On an anniversary like this, we will think of Dawit Isaak for his journalism that led to his imprisonment. He covered the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia and let both sides speak. It reminds of the important role of journalists to also explain the opposing side in war, says Martin Schibbye.
– While I feel sad that a colleague has been imprisoned for so long, we can also feel proud that we in our country have a journalist who pays the highest price for us to know what happens in war. It sheds light on how important journalism is in countries that are getting better at war, he says.
The UN and Amnesty International have called on Eritrea to increase the number of prisoners and release all political and conscientious objectors due to the risk of spreading the pandemic in the country. Dear “Defenseless against covid-19 in overcrowded and unhealthy” prisons, according to Amnesty. which calls for conditions in Eritrean prisons “Inhuman”.
According to the Amnesty report Eritrean prisons are overcrowded with up to four times the number of prisoners they are intended for. Prisoners are rarely allowed to shower or wash their clothes, access to toilets is severely restricted and prisoners depend on relatives for hygiene items and other necessities. Conditions that increase the risk of infection, not just covid.
It is unclear which prison Dawit Isaak is in today. According to information, he will be back in a prison in Asmara. Ten years ago, a defected prison guard told that Isaak was detained in the infamous high-security prison Eraeiro out in the desert where the prisoners were trapped in containers and many suffered from malnutrition and disease.
Co-owner of an independent newspaper
Dawit Isaak was born in 1964 and grew up in Eritrea, which was then part of Ethiopia but was fighting a war for independence.
He fled the war to Sweden in 1987, where he ended up in Lerum outside Gothenburg and worked as a cleaner. He became a Swedish citizen in 1992.
The following year, Eritrea became independent. He returned there, worked as a journalist and became a partner in Setit, the country’s first independent newspaper.
He was arrested in Eritrea on September 23, 2001. According to the regime, he is imprisoned for violating the country’s security. But he was arrested along with a number of politicians and journalists who demanded democratic reforms in Eritrea.
Amnesty International sees him as a prisoner of conscience. He has received several international freedom awards. Expressen and other Swedish media have been working for a long time for him to be released.
According to international human rights groups and Eritrea, it is one of the worst dictatorships in the world in terms of human rights and freedoms.
Dawit Isaak has a wife and three children in Sweden.
This has happened during Dawit Isaac’s 7,000 days in prison
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Around 170 people killed in a hostage drama at the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow.
A US-led coalition invades Iraq.
Sweden’s Foreign Minister Anna Lindh is assassinated
Terrorist attack on trains in Spain, about 200 dead.
A tsunami in the Indian Ocean kills more than 300,000 people. 543 Swedes dead or missing.
Earthquake in Kashmir, 85,000 dead.
The Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah.
The alliance wins the election in Sweden.
Christer Fuglesang becomes the first Swede in space.
Kosovo becomes independent from Serbia.
Russia invades Georgia.
The financial crisis, the biggest stock market crash in 100 years and a worldwide depression.
Barack Obama wins US presidential election
A suicide bomber attacks central Stockholm. The assassin dies, no injuries.
Crown Princess Victoria and Daniel Westling are getting married.
Protests in the Arab world during the “Arab Spring”.
Civil war breaks out in Syria.
Britain’s Prince William marries Kate Middleton.
Earthquake in Japan kills about 16,000 people.
Terrorist attacks in Norway: massacres on Utöya and bombings in Oslo A total of 77 people are killed.
Wedding between Princess Madeleine and Christopher O’Neill
Russia occupies Crimea in Ukraine.
An Ebola epidemic is spreading in West Africa, killing about 8,000 people.
The red-greens form a government in Sweden.
The migration crisis in Europe.
Assassination attempt on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and several terrorist attacks in Paris.
The Brexit side wins the referendum on the EU in the UK.
Donald Trump wins US presidential election
Terrorist attack on Drottninggatan in Stockholm, a total of six dead.
The Metoo campaign is spreading internationally.
Britain’s Prince Harry marries Meghan Markle.
Severe forest fires in Sweden.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Major fire in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Climate activist Greta Thunberg sails across the Atlantic to attend the UN climate summit in New York.
Nine parachutists die in a plane crash outside Umeå.
The Corona pandemic is spreading around the world.
At least 220 people die in explosions in Beirut.
Joe Biden wins US presidential election