Journalist’s choice as Sakharov Prize finalist hailed as victory for Eritrean prisoners of conscience - Press release - Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders hails the European Parliament’s decision to include Dawit Isaac, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual citizenship who has been detained in Eritrea since September 2001, in the three finalists for the 2009 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The leaders of the parliament’s political groups will choose the winner on 22 October.

“The Eritrean government has tried for years to ensure that nothing is said about the fate of its political prisoners,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We thank the European United Left-Nordic Green Left and Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe parliamentary groups for supporting this candidacy.”

 The press freedom organisation added: “This already represents a reward for Dawit Isaac and for the 30 or so other journalists who are rotting in Eritrean jails, without trial, because President Issaias Afeworki regards them as traitors.”

 The names of the three finalists, chosen from a list of 10 nominated by MEPs, were announced on 6 October by the parliament’s foreign affairs and development commissions. The other two finalists are the Gaza-based Palestinian physician Izzeldin Abuelaish and the Russian human rights organisation Memorial.

 “This candidacy is sending a signal to my country’s regime,” an Eritrean political refugee in Belgium told Reporters Without Borders. “Dawit Isaac has not sunk into the oblivion where the authorities want him to be.” Isaac’s brother, Esayas Isaac, told Reporters Without Borders he was very proud. “Eritrea needs talented and committed people like Dawit. We will not give up.”

 The Sweden-based “Free Dawit Isaac” association said it believed the nomination meant that Isaac’s work was recognised in Europe and the rest of the world. Isaac, who founded and edited the weekly Setit, “was not just a journalist but also an acclaimed poet and playwright,” the association’s president, Leif Obrink, said. “Extracts from his plays were shown at the Goteborg book fair at the end of September. We are very grateful to the European Parliament for its efforts on behalf of Dawit.”

 After receiving treatment this year in an air force hospital in Asmara, Isaac was recently transferred to a provincial prison somewhere on the road from the capital to the port city of Masawa. Some sources say it is Embatkala prison, in Ghinda, 35 km northeast of Asmara, while other think he is being held in Dongolo, which is nearer to Masawa.

 A European Parliament resolution on 7 January 2009 expressed deep concern about Isaac’s continuing imprisonment and demanded his immediate release. But the European Union’s attempts to obtain news about him have so far been ignored by the Eritrean authorities.

 See the complete list of imprisoned journalists, updated last month for the eighth anniversary of the round-ups of 18 September 2001 (

 Learn more about the press freedom situation in Eritrea (

 Related Story: Sakharov Prize 2009: MEPs decide on shortlist of three



  Source Asena