"Isaak Moving to Final Destination"

Last weekend a festival in Stockholm celebrating Eritrean culture hosted a representative from the Afwerki administration who in his speech thanked his countrymen for showing strength in the face of the Swedish media’s persecution.

At the same time Swedish-Eritrean journalist and author Dawit Isaak, imprisoned in Eritrea, is rumoured to be awaiting the move to a prison so infamous for the cruel treatment of its inmates that it has been compared to a concentration camp.

According to Eritrean journalist Mehari Abraham, currently resident in Stockholm, the latest information regarding Isaak comes from a trustworthy source, although it has not been confirmed through official channels.

" But Dawit Isaak is still alive, at least as late as last week," Abraham said to DN.

Dawit Isaak has been in Eritrean prison since 2001 after being arrested as part of the government’s drive to close down all independent media in the country. He has yet to be charged or tried in the country.

In Eritrea prisoners are moved from one institution to another as a way of breaking their spirit, according to Swedish news agency TT. Since early spring Dawit Isaak has been moved several times. First to a military hospital where he was treated for a time, then to the prison Embatkala, and finally on to Dongolo where he is believed to be at the moment. The next move is allegedly to Eiraeiro – a prison no one is believed to leave alive. According to exiled Eritreans as well as the organisation Human Rights Watch, torture and isolation are the main characteristics of the Eiraeiro prison.

Swedish media has been reporting about Isaak since his arrest in 2001, and this spring several daily newspapers launched a huge campaign to try to compel the Swedish government to do more for Isaak.

But according to Mehari Abraham, Isaak is not likely to be released from his imprisonment.

“In negotiations with the West the president may use Isaak as a trump card, but it is too late to let him go. There is too much prestige involved now,” he told DN.

And in an interview with Swedish TV 4 this spring, Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki said that “there will be no trial and no release for Dawit Isaak.” The Eritrean government “knows how to deal with him and others like him”. President Afwerki also called Sweden “irrelevant” and governed by the CIA.

Last weekend an Eritrean culture festival was held in Stockholm, with Abdela Jaber, a representative from the Eritrean government present. Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter tried in vain to get an interview with Jaber, but he chose not to talk to the Swedish press.

The tent in which he spoke was full to the brim and during the part that DN was allowed to listen to he said that Eritreans would not bend under the pressure from Swedish media.

“You have shown strength under the psychological warfare that the Swedish media has pursued,” he told his countrymen.

The festival arrangers said to DN that virtually ignored by international media for years the Eritrean struggle for freedom now gets coverage all the time - but it is all negative. According to DN they also claimed that human right organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are infiltrated by the CIA. About the Swedish campaign they said that Swedish media has a hidden agenda and are out to harm Eritrea.

Sophia Tesfamariam, an Eritrean who has lived in the US for many years, was invited to speak at the festival on the topic of PR and media strategy, and she seems to share that view. She was scathing in her criticism against the Swedish involvement.

“What is wrong with you Swedish media? Leave us alone, we want to manage our own country by ourselves. Why would you care about Dawit Isaak, one single individual? This campaign will come to nothing”, she said to Dagens Nyheter’s journalist Sanna Björling.  

 She continued by questioning what democracy really was.

“Who decides what democracy is? We have our own type of democracy! There is no real opposition anyway, they are all runaway thugs, “Sophia Tesfamariam said to DN.

The editor-in –chief for Dagens Nyheter, Thorbjörn Larsson, said in an interview in DN on Sunday that Sweden’s “quiet” diplomacy has failed Isaak and that the government must act plainly in the matter. About the Swedish media’s campaign he said that it was difficult to say whether it had improved Isaak’s situation or made it worse.

“But it is vital to keep reporting on the conditions in Eritrea, and about Dawit Isaak,” he said.

Fredrik Schiller, the Swedish ambassador to Eritrea, who is based in Stockholm, has visited the country on 16 occasions since January. He is careful with what he says about the situation. When DN asked about the media campaign he simply said “no comments”.

Last week’s Eritrean festival was sponsored by the Swedish culture administration, but Stockholm City Council is investigating the matter, and arrangers may be forced to pay back the contribution on the grounds that tax payer’s money shouldn’t be used to sponsor dictatorship regimes.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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