Monday, September 19, 2011

Week of Action for Dawit Isaak


PEN CALLS FOR A WEEK OF ACTION (19-23 September 2011)

All this week, 19-23 September 2011, PEN members around the world will be taking part in a week of action for to protest the decade-long imprisonment of Eritrean-Swedish journalist and author Dawit Isaak who has been detained incommunicado without charge since 23 September 2001. Dawit is said to be held in appalling conditions and to be in poor physical and mental health; there are serious concerns for his wellbeing. We will be calling on the Eritrean authorities to provide details of his whereabouts and assurances that he is receiving all necessary medical treatment as a matter of urgency. We will also be calling for his immediate and unconditional release as well as that of the many other Eritreans imprisoned for their writings since September 2001. For more information on how to get involved, please see below.
 

Dawit Isaak (born 1964), owner of the now defunct weekly newspaper Setit, playwright and writer, was arrested on 23 September 2001 during the crackdown on Eritrea's private press that saw all eight independent newspapers closed down. He is one of nine print journalists who were arrested at the time and to be held incommunicado, apparently indefinitely, without ever being charged or tried. The only accusations made against them have been uncorroborated allegations by the authorities that the journalists were "traitors".

Information about the detained journalists is scant. However, at least four of them have reportedly died in custody since 2005 due to harsh conditions and lack of medical attention. There have also been unconfirmed reports of the deaths of nine out of 11 former government cabinet ministers also arrested in September 2001 for publishing a letter criticising the Eritrean government.

Dawit Isaak and the other surviving journalists are presumed to remain in detention in secret locations, despite a 2007 ruling by the African Union's Commission on Human and People's Rights that their detention was arbitrary and unlawful and that the Eritrean government should release and compensate them. There are ongoing concerns about severe ill treatment, possible torture, poor health and lack of access to medical care.

The most recent reports indicate that Dawit is being held at the Eiraeiro maximum-security prison camp, 10 miles north of the capital Asmara , along with a number of the other detained journalists. They are reportedly not allowed any contact with each other or the outside world, are routinely shackled and receive almost no medical care. Some are said to be held in metal containers or underground cells in temperatures of around 50 degrees Celsius.

Dawit suffers from a diabetic condition that requires medical supervision and he is said to be in poor psychological health. He has been hospitalised several times since his imprisonment, including in 2002 for treatment for injuries sustained through torture. In November 2005, Dawit, who holds dual Eritrean Swedish citizenship, was briefly released for a medical check-up and to call his family and friends following pressure by groups in Sweden .

In July 2011, Dawit's younger brother, Esayas Isaak, who lives in Sweden , filed a writ of habeas corpus with Eritrea 's Supreme Court calling for information on the journalist's location and a review of his imprisonment. The habeas corpus writ was reportedly not supported by the Swedish government; according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has said the country's goal was to have Dawit released on humanitarian grounds rather than stand trial. In 2010, Esayas Isaak wrote an open letter to the Swedish government and European Union expressing concern that they were not doing enough to pressurize the Eritrean government to release Dawit.

Background

- Dawit Isaak is an Honorary Member of Finnish PEN and Swedish PEN.
- He was awarded the 2009 Tucholsky Award by Swedish PEN and the 2011 Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).
- A collection of his writings, entitled Hope- the Tale of Moses and Manna's Love, was launched at Sweden 's Gothenburg book fair in September 2010.

Useful links


Information on Isaak:

- Update from the Committee to Protest Journalists (3 August 2011)
- Update from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (24 May 2011)
- Free Dawit campaign (co-founded by Esayas Isaak) (Click here)
- PEN International profile (Click here)

Information on Eritrea:

- Eritrea has now been the lowest ranking of all the countries included in RSF's annual Press Freedom Index for four consecutive years (Click here)
- BBC country profile (Click here)
- Amnesty International's 2011 report on human rights in Eritrea (Click here)

Suggested actions:

We are asking all of our members to do at least one of the following during the week leading up to the 10th anniversary of Dawit Isaak's imprisonment (19-23 September 2011):

1. Send protest letters (NB a sample letter follows):

- Protesting the 10-year imprisonment of Dawit Isaak, at least four journalists and 11 former cabinet members detained incommunicado since September 2001;
- Calling on the Eritrean authorities to release details of his health status, medical treatment and whereabouts, as well as that of the other detainees; 
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Isaac and the other surviving journalists, in line with the 2007 African Commission on Human and People's Rights ruling, as well as that of the former ministers detained for their writings.

Appeals to:

His Excellency Mr. Tesfamicael Gerahtu Ogbaghiorghis
Embassy of the State of Eritrea
96 White Lion Street ,
London
N1 9PF
Fax: 020 7713 0096
Email: tesfamicaelg@eriembauk.com

President Isaias Afewerki
c/o Embassy of the State of Eritrea
96 White Lion Street,
London
N1 9PF
Fax: 020 7713 0096
Email: tesfamicaelg@eriembauk.com

2. Write to the British Embassy in Eritrea , asking the Ambassador to raise concerns about Isaak and the other detainees.

Mrs. Sandra Tyler-Haywood
British Embassy
66-68 Mariam Ghimbi Street
Zip Code 174
PO Box 5584
Asmara
Eritrea

3.  For Facebook users: Change your profile picture
.

For those of you on Facebook, please change your profile picture to one of Dawit Isaak for the duration of the week of action (19-23 September 2011).

4. For Twitter users: Tweet #freedawitisaak


Please tweet regularly, and particularly on Fridays, using the hashtag #freedawitisaak and including links to more information on his case.

***Please keep the English PEN office informed of your activities and any response you receive from the authorities by emailing cat@englishpen.org ***

SAMPLE LETTERS

Please do write more personal letters if you have time; the following are just examples.

His Excellency Mr. Tesfamicael Gerahtu Ogbaghiorghis
Embassy of the State of Eritrea
96 White Lion Street,
London
N1 9PF

[DATE]

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you as a member of English PEN, the founding centre of the worldwide association of writers, to protest the decade-long imprisonment of my fellow writer Dawit Isaak and a number of other writers detained in Eritrea in violation of their right to free expression. According to PEN's information, there are at least a further four journalists and 11 former cabinet members all of whom have been detained since September 2001.

Eritrean-Swedish journalist and author Dawit Isaak has been detained incommunicado without charge since 23 September 2001. He is said to be held in appalling conditions and to be in poor physical and mental health; there are serious concerns for his wellbeing.

I call upon the Eritrean authorities to release Dawit Isaak and all those detained in Eritrea in violation of their right to free expression immediately and unconditionally, in line with the 2007 African Commission on Human and People's Rights ruling that their detention was arbitrary and unlawful and that they should be released and receive compensation.

In the meantime, I strongly urge Your Excellency to ensure that details of the health status, medical treatment and whereabouts of Dawit Isaak and the other detained writers are released as a matter of urgency.

I would be most grateful if you would forward the enclosed letter of appeal to His Excellency President Isaias Afewerki and would welcome your comments on my appeal.

Yours sincerely,

[NAME, OCCUPATION, ADDRESS]

*

President Isaias Afewerki
c/o Embassy of the State of Eritrea
96 White Lion Street,
London
N1 9PF

[DATE]

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you as a member of English PEN, the founding centre of the worldwide association of writers, to protest the decade-long imprisonment of my fellow writer Dawit Isaak and a number of other writers detained in Eritrea in violation of their right to free expression. According to PEN's information, there are at least a further four journalists and 11 former cabinet members all of whom have been detained since September 2001.

Eritrean-Swedish journalist and author Dawit Isaak has been detained incommunicado without charge since 23 September 2001. He is said to be held in appalling conditions and to be in poor physical and mental health; there are serious concerns for his wellbeing.

I call upon the Eritrean authorities to release Dawit Isaak and all those detained in Eritrea in violation of their right to free expression immediately and unconditionally, in line with the 2007 African Commission on Human and People's Rights ruling that their detention was arbitrary and unlawful and that they should be released and receive compensation.

In the meantime, I strongly urge Your Excellency to ensure that details of the health status, medical treatment and whereabouts of Dawit Isaak and the other detained writers are released as a matter of urgency.

I would welcome your comments on my appeal.

Yours sincerely,

[NAME, OCCUPATION, ADDRESS]

*

Her Excellency Mrs. Sandra Tyler-Haywood
British Embassy
66-68 Mariam Ghimbi Street
Zip Code 174
PO Box 5584
Asmara
Eritrea

[DATE]

Your Excellency,

I am writing to you as a member of English PEN, the founding centre of the worldwide association of writers, to protest the decade-long imprisonment of my fellow writer Dawit Isaak, and a number of other writers detained in Eritrea in violation of their right to free expression. According to PEN's information, there are at least a further four journalists and 11 former cabinet members all of whom have been detained since September 2001.

Eritrean-Swedish journalist and author Dawit Isaak has been detained incommunicado without charge since 23 September 2001. He is said to be held in appalling conditions and to be in poor physical and mental health; there are serious concerns for his wellbeing.

I have written to the Eritrean authorities urging them to release Dawit Isaak and all those detained in Eritrea in violation of their right to free expression immediately and unconditionally, in line with the 2007 African Commission on Human and People's Rights ruling that their detention was arbitrary and unlawful and that the Eritrean government should release and compensate them. I have urged the authorities to ensure that details of the health status, medical treatment and whereabouts of Dawit Isaak and the other detained writers are released as a matter of urgency.

I would be most grateful if, as the diplomatic representative for the UK , you would consider raising my concerns about Dawit Isaak and the other detainees with the relevant authorities in the Eritrea .  

I would welcome your comments on my appeal.

Yours sincerely,

[NAME, OCCUPATION, ADDRESS]

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