October 21, 2019
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Freedom Of Thought

Dawit Isaak's daughter holds out hope

 A young Eritrean demonstrates in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on October 24, 2005 (Photo: Christian Hartmann EFE/EPA)    

A young Eritrean demonstrates in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on October 24, 2005 (Photo: Christian Hartmann EFE/EPA)    

Copenhagen, Oct 25 (efe-epa).- Family of imprisoned Eritrean-born journalist Dawit Isaak has not lost hope of winning his freedom, but after 16 years they are relying more on dialogue and less on pressuring dictator Isaias Afewerki.

Bethlehem Isaak lives with her two siblings and mother in Sweden, the adopted homeland of Dawit Isaak, who had lived there in exile but returned to his homeland when Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia and founded an independent newspaper, Setit, before being imprisoned a few years later.

Despite international pressure, the Eritrean regime continues to refuse to release Isaak, who has been in prison since September 23, 2001, without being charged or tried or allowed any contact with his family.

"I don't think that any sovereign nation in the world would accept demands from outside if it felt that it was being forced," Bethlehem Isaak told EFE in an interview by e-mail.

"My opinion," she adds, "is that fair and honest dialogue is critical and the right approach. And, ultimately, the decision (on Dawit Isaak's fate) is Eritrea's decision."

The Swedish government "is doing what it can"

The first and only president of Eritrea did not accept the criticism leveled against him by politicians and independent journalists and sent a good number of them to jail in 2001.

Except for two days in 2005, when he was released to receive medical treatment and allowed to speak by telephone with his family, Isaak has remained in the custody of Eritrean authorities, who consider his case a domestic security matter.

His daughter, a resident of Gothenburg, Sweden, says there has been scant – and only indirect – news of Dawit Isaak over the past 16 “painful years,” most recently a year ago when both the Eritrean foreign minister, Osman Saleh, and a presidential adviser confirmed that he was alive.

These statements offer a ray of "hope" to Bethlehem Isaak, who says she has no reason to doubt their credibility.

The journalist-playwright's daughter stresses the importance of "exchanging ideas and values in a respectful manner" between different countries to reach agreements.

In recent months, organizations such as the European Parliament and figures like the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, have demanded the release of the journalist, just as politicians, associations and media in Sweden have done for years.

Bethlehem Isaak acknowledges the support of all the people who are "honestly" fighting in Sweden for her father’s release.

But she also laments that some individuals use his name for their own interests and admits that that causes her "sadness and disappointment."

The government of Sweden (Isaak also has Swedish citizenship) has been criticized at home for attempting "silent diplomacy" with Eritrea, although Bethlehem says she is convinced that Stockholm "is doing what it can."

His life has become my inspiration

Isaak, who turns 53 this week, has received numerous awards for freedom of expression. This year, he was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize, named in honor of an assassinated Colombian journalist, and is one of three finalists for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

While accepting the UNESCO's Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in Jakarta on May 3 on behalf of her father, Bethlehem Isaak reminisced about a man who taught her to read at the age of four, who was always "traveling, away from home, dedicated to helping others," committed to building a free Eritrea.

She recalls that her father expressed pride in Setit: “It is the first independent newspaper (of Eritrea). We do not want to depend on the government, on other countries or organizations. We started independent and we will continue in that vein.”

"Today, 20 years later and 15 years since I saw him last, I understand his passion and that the world is much more complex and more violent and unjust than I thought. Today, his life has become my inspiration," his daughter says.

Determined to dedicate her life to defending freedom, Bethlehem added at the ceremony: "Although my father is not here today, he would tell me not to feel anger or sadness but hope and forgiveness; he would tell me to show understanding and concentrate on what we can do to help others."

She therefore encouraged the international community "to become involved in a fruitful dialogue" and guide the people of that country "toward an Eritrea where we all can free our minds, souls and hearts."

"And one day, father, I hope to see you again, hold your hands and simply be your daughter. I hope you return home soon," she concluded.

By Anso Lamela and Julia R. Arévalo

Translated by Parul Dua



The project was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant program in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information for opinions expressed in the context of this project. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or program broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the project.

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