Dawit Isaak, born in 1964, is a dual citizen of Eritrea and Sweden who has been imprisoned without trial in Eritrea since September, 2001. In the first 20 years of his life Dawit became a prominent, award-winning author of several novels and plays, including two in Tigrinya, Eritrea’s official language. Dawit fled Eritrea, the country of his birth, in 1985 during the country’s brutal 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia. During this time Dawit moved to Sweden where he began at a refugee camp but found work cleaning a church in Gothenburg. The author became an active member of Sweden’s Eritrean diaspora, who shared the dream of an independent homeland.
When Eritrea had its independence officially recognized in 1992, Dawit returned to the new country’s capital of Asmara, and started a children’s group at a local theater. In 1997, with a group of journalists, Dawit founded Setit, the first and only independent newspaper in Eritrea’s history. In 2001 a group of opposition politicians published a letter urging President Isaias Afwerki to hold free elections as promised, and Setit reported on the story. On September 23, 2001 two state security officers arrested Dawit without charge.
Dawit Isaak has been hospitalized on many occasions throughout his imprisonment, as he has been subjected to torture and has extra medical needs as a diabetic. Eritrean prison conditions are notoriously poor, and summer temperatures regularly reach 45º C (113º F.) Seven of Dawit’s colleagues have died in captivity, and he has been feared to be dead on many occasions.
Dawit Isaak was stated to be alive most recently on June 20, 2016, by Eritrea’s foreign minister Osman Saleh. Dawit’s Brother Esayas Isaak joined the Swedish MP and former Eritrean child soldier Arhe Hamednaca in expressing both a distrust for the government and hope for Dawit’s safety, taking the news skeptically.
Dawit Isaak has received numerous awards during his imprisonment, including the Freedom of the Press award from Reporters Without Borders and the Gold Pen of Freedom from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
Dawit Isaak is currently being held in the maximum-security Eiraeiro Prison 15 kilometers north of Asmara, Eritrea. Due to the arbitrary nature of his detention, it is impossible to suggest when Dawit Isaak will be released.