Eritrea: RSF demands Swedish prosecutors take responsibility for Dawit Isaak
September 23, 2001 Dawit Isaak was having breakfast with his wife and their three children at their home in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. The meal was interrupted when the police came and arrested him.
Since then and for the past 20 years, Dawit Isaak has been imprisoned in Eritrea without ever having been tried for any crime. He is being held in atrocious conditions in an undisclosed location. With his colleagues arrested at the same time, he is now the longest-imprisoned journalist in the world.
On that very date, RSF asked the Swedish public prosecutor’s office to assume its international responsibility and to open a preliminary investigation for crimes against humanity in the Dawit Isaak case. Today we turn to Attorney General Petra Lundh to overturn previous decisions not to investigate this case.
“After 20 years, truth and justice are due to Dawit Isaak, his colleagues and his family, said Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate who co-signed the complaint. It is high time that the Swedish courts opened a judicial investigation into the enforced disappearance of a Swede with dual nationality, a brave journalist who was targeted for his journalistic activity. Not respecting international obligations should not be an option for any state, at least for a democratic country like Sweden “.
Sweden has yet to initiate criminal investigations into the case despite numerous complaints filed by RSF and others.
In 2016, Attorney General Anders Perklev established that there was reason to believe that crimes against humanity were being committed against Dawit Isaak. He also said the crimes may be investigated by Swedish police. Despite this, he decided not to open an investigation for fear of disrupting the negotiations led by the Swedish Foreign Ministry to obtain the release of Dawit Isaak. Since his decision, five years have passed.
This led RSF to lodge a new complaint for crimes against humanity, torture and enforced disappearance in October 2020. The complaint was signed by 12 eminent international human rights lawyers. Both the prosecutor Karolina Wieslander and the director of the prosecution service Lennart Guné refused to open an investigation. The director of the prosecution did not give reasons for his decision, but the prosecutor said that Eritrea would not cooperate, making it impossible to investigate the alleged crimes.
Crimes against humanity are crimes so serious that they can be investigated also outside the country where they were committed. One example is the ongoing trial in Stockholm against an Iranian citizen accused of participating in the mass executions in Iranian prisons in 1988. Among those executed were hundreds of journalists. This case shows that Sweden and the Swedish prosecution service can meet their international obligations, if they wish.
“In light of the trials in which Swedish prosecutors assume their international responsibility, the decisions in Dawit Isaak’s case are so far impossible to understand, says Erik Halkjaer, president of the Swedish section of RSF. That the crimes that we believe should be investigated will not be investigated because Eritrea will not cooperate? So far, prosecutors have not only ignored previous decisions by Attorney General Anders Perklev, but also acted irrational as one of them actually led the Iranian investigation. And Iran did not cooperate “.
Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi, former judge of the International Criminal Court, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler and others are at the origin of the complaints alongside the Swedish lawyers Percy Bratt and Jesús Alcalá. Like RSF, these lawyers expect a lot from the Swedish public prosecutor’s office. Sweden must take responsibility for working for human rights and against impunity.
“The crimes suffered by the longest detained journalist in the world deserve nothing more than a thorough investigation by his country of nationality,” said Antoine Bernard, director of advocacy and strategic litigation at RSF. Investigating, prosecuting, punishing and remedying such crimes are more than Sweden’s commitment to justice for international crimes, obligations under international law. We call on the Attorney General to uphold justice over political considerations. “
To learn more, read our report Prisoner of Conscience Since 2001 – Why is Dawit Isaak Still in Prison?
Eritrea is ranked last in the RSF press freedom rankings, 180th out of 180. Sweden is ranked third.