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Dawit Isaak is a journalist, a writer and a playwright. He was born October 27th 1964. Twenty nine years later, his country would be declared the state of Eritrea after a long and bloody war for liberation. He came to Sweden as a refugee from the war in 1987. He lived in Lerum, worked as a cleaner and became a Swedish citizen in 1992.
When Eritrea gained independence, Dawit returned to his native country. He got married and had children. Eventually he became a part-owner of the country's first independent newspaper, Setit, where he came to work as a reporter. But the country's independence proved fragile: in 1998, the conflict with Ethiopia unexpectedly flared up again, leading to a devastating border war. Dawit returned to Sweden, preparing to bring his family to safety. His wife and three children followed in April 2000. They settled down in Gothenburg. One year later, Dawit again travelled to Eritrea.
That spring, Asmara was boiling with political activity. The border war had caused an intense political debate. A group of fifteen cabinet members demanded, among other things, democratic reforms and a thorough, objective evalutation of the events leading to the war. In May, when the demands of the fifteen dissidents had not gained a hearing, they put their critique on the internet in an open letter to the PFDJ. The letter was published by the free press, along with analyses, comments and interviews with several of the fifteen politicians. Then, while the international community turned its gaze toward the ruins of World Trade Centre, the government stroke back against the reformists. Within a few days, eleven of the fifteen politicians were arrested, as were ten of the leading journalists from the free press. Including Dawit Isaak, who was taken into custody an early Sunday morning, on 23 september 2001.
As yet, none of them has been either charged formally or given a fair trial. The journalists, as well as the politicians, have been branded as traitors; the journalists have also been accused of receiving financial aid from abroad - a crime according to the Eritrean press laws.
There have been few signs of life from Dawit since his arrest. In November 2001, Sweden's then honorary consul in Asmara, Lis Truelsen, caught a glimpse of him through the bars and had time to exchange a few words with him. In April 2002 he was taken to hospital - for treatment of torture injuries, according to the American press organization Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). And in the summer of 2004, Eritrea's ambassador in Stockholm, Araya Desta, told the Swedish national radio that Dawit was doing fine.
But so far, neither his family nor Swedish authorities nor international human rights organizations have been allowed to visit him. The Eritrean authorities claim that Dawit is an Eritrean citizen only - not a Swedish citizen - and his case thus an internal affair.