afrol News, 22 November - Dawit Isaac was imprisoned for years ago as the government closed down the entire free press in the country. The Eritrean-Swedish journalist never has been charged or tried. Mr Isaac has finally been freed, but 14 journalists still remain in Eritrea's secret jails without charges brought against them.
"On Saturday, I was called and told that Dawit's sister had called and said that Dawit is free after 1,518 days in prison. He now is with his sister," says Leif Öbrink, chairman of the Stockholm-based support committee for Mr Isaac.
Mr Öbrink is thrilled. His committee, which counted on strong support from the entire Swedish press, was beginning to get tired of four years without successes. Actions finally had been limited to low-scale psychological warfare with the Eritrean Embassy. At the last handover of a protest letter, the activists had been so surprised and joyful over a sympathetic Eritrean official that they forgot to ask about Mr Isaac.
There is no doubt that their campaign, which has brought Eritrea in a constant bad light in Sweden during four years, has had an effect. Totally out of the blue, Mr Isaac was freed on Saturday. But his 14 companions without a Swedish passport remain in jail.
Mr Öbrink said he believed Swedish diplomatic pressure had helped secure Mr Isaac's release, and that a Swedish diplomat was currently in the Eritrean capital Asmara trying to secure Mr Isaac's safe passage to Sweden to join his wife. The Swedish-Eritrean journalist is now staying with his sister in Asmara.
In international media organisations, among exiled Eritreans and in particular in Mr Isaac's family, there was great joy over his release. Mr Öbrink says he has already spoken to the journalist's wife: "She was so happy, so relieved. We have not seen her smile like that for four years." Mr Isaac has three children, who are also in Sweden.
The good news was also strongly welcomed by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "We are delighted that Isaac has been released after all these years of detention without trial," said Ann Cooper, CPJ Executive Director.
But in all this joy over Mr Isaac's release, concern is mounting over the 14 other Eritrean journalists who do not have a foreign government to lobby for their individual case. This was pointed to by Mr Öbrink and by Ms Cooper. "Eritrea remains Africa's worst jailer of journalists. We will not forget the fourteen other journalists who have been imprisoned without charge or forced into extended military service," the CPJ Director emphasised.
Journalists started getting jailed in Eritrea in early 2001. During a September 2001 crackdown, Eritrean authorities arrested at least 10 journalists, accusing them variously of avoiding the military draft, threatening national security, and failing to observe licensing requirements. But CPJ research indicates that the crackdown was motivated by political anxiety ahead of elections, which were later cancelled.
Read more about the frustrating campaign to free Mr Isaac here.
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