Media rights advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has issued a statement tasking the Eritrean government to make known the whereabouts of a journalist who has been held for sixteen years.
Dawit Isaak, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean nationality was arrested in 2001 during a political crackdown in the Horn of Africa nation.
RSF’s call coincided with this years’ commemoration of the ‘International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.’ The group listed Eritrea and Algeria as some of the African countries that make journalists disappear.
According to the account of a former prison guard in 2010, the last time Isaak was seen alive, the journalists had been kept in inhuman conditions – handcuffed, isolated, and exposed to terrible heat.
The journalist who helped found the Eritrean newspaper Setit, was awarded UNESCO’s Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in 2017. The United Nations in May this year also reiterated a similar call to the Eritrean government to provide information on the 52-year-old.
Since his arrest, Dawit along with ten other journalists on terrorism charges, he has been held incommunicado, without access to his family or lawyers. The detained journalists are being held over demands for democratic reforms.
“Information obtained by RSF suggests that seven of these 11 journalists have already died in detention. According to the account of a former prison guard in 2010, the last time Isaak was seen alive, the journalists had been kept in inhuman conditions – handcuffed, isolated, and exposed to terrible heat,” a statement by the group said.
RSF said despite its information requests to Asmara having received zero response, it was committed to continued efforts to ensure he was not forgotten like hundreds of journalists made to disappear by governments around the world.
“The arrests of Dawit Isaak and his fellow journalists remain the most visible sign of repression of freedom of expression. The Eritrean authorities continue to stifle all forms of expression that could be perceived as critical of the Government and its policies,” UN rights chief in Eritrea Sheila B. Keetharuth said in a statement earlier this year.
There have been numerous rumours of Dawit Isaak’s death since he was arrested. On the occasion of the 2017 World Press Freedom Day, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has called for an end to the crackdown on journalists who he described as a “voice of the voiceless.”