On 23 September 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 being tried for any crime. He is held in atrocious conditions at an undisclosed location. Together with his colleagues who were arrested at the same time he is now the longest imprisoned journalist in the world.
On this very date RSF requests that the Prosecution Authority of Sweden meets its international responsibility and open a preliminary investigation for crimes against humanity in Dawit Isaak’s case. We turn today to Prosecutor-General Petra Lundh to reverse prior decisions not to investigate this case.
“After 20 years, truth and justice are overdue to Dawit Isaak, his colleagues and family, says Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate who cosigned the complaint. It is high time that the Swedish judiciary opens a prosecutorial investigation into the forced disappearance of a Swedish dual national, a brave journalist who was targeted for his journalistic activity. Not abiding by international obligations shouldn’t be an option for any State, least for a democratic country like Sweden”.
Sweden is yet to launch criminal investigations in this case despite numerous complaints lodged by RSF and others.
In 2016, Prosecutor-General Anders Perklev has established that there are reasons to believe crimes against humanity are being committed against Dawit Isaak. He has also stated that the crimes can be investigated by the Swedish police. Despite this he decided not to open an investigation for fear of disturbing the negotiations conducted by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs to obtain the release of Dawit Isaak. Since his decision five years have passed.
It led RSF to file a new lawsuit for crimes against humanity, torture and enforced disappearance in October 2020. The complaint was signed by 12 prominent international human rights lawyers. Both the Public Prosecutor Karolina Wieslander and the Director of Public Prosecution Authority Lennart Guné have refused to open an investigation. The Director of Public Prosecution did not motivate his decision but the Public Prosecutor said that Eritrea would not cooperate which would make it impossible to investigate the suspected crimes.
Crimes against humanity is a crime so serious that it can be investigated also outside of the country where it has been committed. An example is the ongoing trial in Stockholm against an Iranian citizen accused of being part of the mass executions in Iranian prisons in 1988. Among the executed were hundreds of journalists. This case shows that Sweden and the Swedish Prosecution Authority can shoulder their international obligations, if they want to.
“In light of trials in which Swedish prosecutors take 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 we believe must be investigated will not be because Eritrea will not cooperate? The prosecutors have so far not only ignored the earlier decisions by Prosecutor-General Anders Perklev but act irrationally as one of them has actually led the Iranian investigation. And Iran has not cooperated”.
Nobel Prize Shirin Ebadi, the former Judge of the International Criminal Court, former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay, Canada’s former Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler and others are behind the complaints along with Swedish jurists Percy Bratt and Jesús Alcalá. Just like RSF, these lawyers have high expectations of the Prosecution Authority in Sweden. Sweden must take its responsibility in the work for human rights and against impunity.
“The crimes suffered by the world’s longest detained journalist deserve nothing but a full-fledged investigation from his country of nationality, said Antoine Bernard, RSF’s Director for Advocacy and Strategic Litigation. Sweden must investigate, prosecute, sanction and repair such crimes to comply with its commitment to justice and international law. We call on the Prosecutor-General to make justice prevail over political considerations.”
For 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 Index, place 180 of 180. Sweden is ranked number 3.