With only a pen as his weapon, Dawit Isaak has fought for human fundamental rights and freedoms. Still, after all these years, we do not know how he is, what his life circumstances are, as no official prosecution has been brought and no trial has taken place.
Dawit Isaak is the sole prisoner of conscience of the EU and the fact that neither Sweden nor the EU has managed to help free him is a tragedy and big failure. I do not think any of us can even start to imagine the unimaginable mental and physical terror that Dawit Isaak has been forced to suffer in his cell, completely isolated from the rest of the world. It is only with the help of thoughts and dreams that he may imagine the growth of his children, who now are adults.
When a journalist is imprisoned in a dictatorship, where the regime’s sole purpose is to silence him, we all have a responsibility to ensure that his destiny is not consigned to the shadows or that he is forgotten.
That’s why I in several ways have tried to draw attention to Dawit Isaak’s case. Hitherto, it has not led to his release – and that is precisely why we must never ever give up, but keep on fighting.
In March 2016, I ensured that Dawit Isaak’s case was mentioned in a resolution on Eritrea adopted by the European Parliament. I have highlighted his case in cultural events, for example in 2014 when seven European parliamentarians, including them, the then president of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, Alde’s president Guy Verhofstadt and myself as well as Hollywood actors like Lena Olin and Dennis Haysbert, played Speak Truth to Power and dedicated the entire presentation to Dawit Isaak.
I also participated in the music video “A bird song”, which was dedicated to him.
Together with the Swedish media campaign Free Dawit I have organised a reconstruction of Dawit Isaak’s cell to be put at the entrance to the Bozar Center of Fine Arts in Brussels, open for the public to enter and sit in.
And, most importantly, myself and Eritrea’s president’s closest adviser Yemane Gebreab, had a humble and respectful conversation at the UN Headquarter in New York, where I asked him to put the guilt issue aside and pardon Dawit Isaak so that he could get back into freedom and reunite with his family. I was extremely relieved that Gebreab could confirm that Dawit Isaak was still alive in September 2016.
Unfortunately, nothing indicates that President Afewerki, who has been in post since 1993, will release Dawit Isaak. Nothing suggests that a trial will be held.
The silent diplomacy that the Swedish government is doing behind the scenes has unfortunately not shown any results after all these years. Therefore, it is time to put that strategy behind us and instead find new ways to release Dawit Isaak and all other political prisoners.
When Dawit Isaak’s and other journalists’ voices are silenced, we must all use our voices to strongly and clearly stand up for democracy and freedom. If we act together in every way we can, then ultimately we can end this oppression.
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