- Joy was short for Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaac, who was surprisingly released after four years in prison without a trial last month. Just two days after his release, and before he managed to return to his family in Sweden, Mr Isaac was sent back to prison. As usual, no explanation were given by Eritrea's increasingly dictatorial authorities.
Mr Isaac was returned to jail just two days after being released in mid-November. He is one of 15 Eritrean journalists who have been jailed incommunicado and without charge or forced into extended military service following a September 2001 clampdown that shut down the country's entire private press. Since 2001, the regime of Dictator Issayas Afewerki has only become more and more paranoid and unpredictable, as documented by the re-detention of Mr Isaac.
The new unmotivated detention of the Swedish-Eritrean journalist two weeks ago was only confirmed yesterday. Sources contacting the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had confirmed that Mr Isaac had been by now returned to jail. During his brief release, he was able to phone his wife in Sweden as well as Leif Öbrink, a close friend who heads a campaign in Sweden for his release.
Mr Isaac was freed on 19 November, and the release was originally believed to have been permanent. The release was attributed to Swedish diplomatic efforts and was confirmed by Bengt Sparre, Sweden's Envoy to Eritrea. But conflicting reports soon emerged. Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that Mr Isaac had been freed temporarily merely to receive a medical check-up. It is not clear whether Mr Isaac, in fact, received the examination.
The Swedish-Eritrean journalist did not seem aware that his release was only temporary. From the Asmara prison, he went to the house of his sister, where he took contact with family and friends in Sweden. Together, they planned for his return to Sweden. Mr Isaac however suddenly was sent back to jail on 21 November for reasons that were not explained, Mr Öbrink told CPJ. A second source has confirmed Mr Isaac's return to jail.
The news of Mr Isaac's new detention "outraged" CPJ and other pro-human rights groups. "We are appalled at the Eritrean government's decision to return Dawit Isaac to jail," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement yesterday evening. "This only serves to underline the cynical disregard for human rights in Eritrea, Africa's worst jailer of journalists," Ms Cooper added.
Also in Sweden, the news of Mr Isaac's new detention has caused anger and disbelief. Spokesman Jan Janonius of the Stock Foreign Ministry has confirmed the journalist's new detention and says that Sweden will again send Envoy Sparre to Asmara to renew negotiations over his release.
The Swedish press concludes that it probably was the more-than-expected publicity around Mr Isaac's release that saw him back to jail again. Social Democrat MP Rezene Tesfazion, who was born in Eritrea, told 'Svenska Dagbladet' that "when the Eritrean regime understood that Dawit Isaac was such an important person to Sweden, one wanted to achieve more concessions in negotiations." He referred to diplomatic aid in the conflict with Ethiopia and development aid.
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