Soon five thousand days in prison

On 2 June, it will be exactly 5,000 days since the imprisonment of Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak. A quarter of his life has gone to waste. Here, Esayas Isaak writes about his brother.

April 8 2015 Text: Esayas Isaak Translation from Swedish: Christina Cullhed Illustration: Jesper Waldersten

Dawit Isaak is my older brother who always dreamed of a free and democratic Eritrea. He often talked about the importance of guarding one’s country. To retain one’s language and culture was vital to Dawit Isaak. He was the brother who taught me Tigrinya in the afternoons in his small one room flat. I remember how, during my adolescence, he often said that we would go back one day to visit our parents and live in a free and independent Eritrea.

On that certain day in April 2001 when he took farewell of us and left for Eritrea neither he nor I could have known that he would one day become a symbol for the freedom of speech in the country. This was at a time when the streets of Asmara were seething with political debates. Many felt that Eritrea was on the brink of an even greater challenge than the thirty years long Eritrean War for Independence. The country had all the chances of becoming a leading nation on the African continent. Those of us who were living in exile had great hopes set on Eritrea. Dawit and his colleagues on the newspaper Setit went there to write about the citizens’ longing for democracy, the farmers’ rights to their own land, or the right to be adequately informed about HIV. These kinds of articles may to us seem banal but in a totalitarian state such as Eritrea they can entail indefinite imprisonment without trial. Well, one need only study the case of Dawit.

I was one of those who did not understand how serious the situation was. I thought that Dawit would get a short sentence. He will surely be home for Christmas I thought. That was fourteen years ago. Five thousand days later Dawit is still in prison without any charges, without a trial, and even without any contact at all with the world outside.

Each day and every minute for Dawit is a severe violation of his human rights. No one deserves this kind of treatment. Every day I am reminded of the vital significance of freedom—something that we usually just take for granted. I often wonder what Dawit is doing. Is he still sane after all these years of uncertainty? Where does he get the strength to persevere? At the moment there are no answers to these questions, but until we get them it is our duty to support him and to spread information about Dawit’s tragic fate.