Dawit Isaak case – Complaint filed for crimes against humanity in Sweden

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Dawit Isaak Case

Complaint filed for crimes against humanity in Sweden

October 27, 2020 marks the 56th birthday of Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak. It is the 20th birthday he will spend in imprisonment in Eritrea. Last Wednesday, October 21, 2020, on the initiative of RSF, a group of 14 Swedish and international lawyers, among them Shirin Ebadi and Irwin Cotler, the former Minister of Justice of Canada, submitted a formal complaint to Swedish authorities of crimes against humanity committed against Dawit Isaak by members of the Eritrean regime. Among the eight accused is Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki, who has been in power since 1993. The historian Susanne Berger and the German prosecuting attorney Bernhard Docke are co-signers of the complaint. Today, RSF Sweden also  has released a new report that sharply criticizes  the official Swedish handling of the Dawit Isaak case. [add link]

Bernhard Docke – Statement

“The long-term imprisonment, comparable to a state kidnapping, without charge and trial, under conditions of torture and in complete isolation from relatives, colleagues, lawyers and consular support, is not only a serious crime against humanity, but also a political and moral scandal of the worst kind. Why was Dawit Isaac detained? As a journalist, he reported critically about the living conditions and the political leadership in Eritrea, a natural right in every constitutional state. The Eritrean government has thus completely sidelined  itself and should be sanctioned diplomatically, legally and economically by the international community, through all possible means.

After all attempts by the Swedish government to obtain through silent diplomacy the release or even access to Dawit Isaak, or at least  a sign of life,  have apparently been blocked completely by the arrogance of Eritrea, it is high time to admit the failure of this path and to counter Eritrea’s actions with severity. The Swedish Attorney General should initiate criminal proceedings against those responsible in Eritrea for crimes against humanity and obtain international arrest warrants. Swedish as well as international law obliges law enforcement agencies to act on crimes against humanity from the point of view of universal jurisdiction, even if this would not allow for direct action in Eritrea: The accused could no longer leave the country without the risk of arrest. And this would be an important message against impunity for state crimes, with the chance to help Dawit Isaak, but also as a lesson for all other dictators in the world that sooner or later they will be held accountable for human rights.”

Bernhard Docke
Lawyer, Specialist in criminal law
Am Wall 151-152, 28195 Bremen, Germany
Fon + 49 (0) 421 / 33 52 00
Fax + 49 (0) 421 / 33 52 020


More information

Press Release, RSF, Sweden, 27.10.2020

Text of the complaint/Text der Beschwerde (English)

The Story of David Isaak in the Fritz Bauer Library

Journalist, poet and playwright Dawit Isaak,  who holds  both Eritrean  and Swedish citizenship, was apprehended by Eritrean police forces on 23 September 2001. According to news reports at the time, Dawit and other journalists were allegedly  arrested for avoiding Eritrea’scompulsory national [military] service. The detentions came in the wake of the closing down of eight  newspapers by  Eritrean  state authorities on 18 September 2001. These included the weeklies Meqaleh, Setit, Tsigenay, Zemen, Wintana, and Admas. Dawit Isaak was a co-owner and contributing writer of Setit( ሰቲት), Eritrea’s first independent newspaper,  named after a mighty river in Eastern Eritrea. In early 2001, Setit had published an open letter from the “G-15”, a group of Eritrean politicians and government officials who had sharply criticized the growing erosion of civil liberties in Eritrea, under President Isaias Afewerki. Except for  one brief interval in 2005, Dawit Isaak has been imprisoned for seventeen years without charge or trial, with no contact to the outside world. Neither his family nor his lawyers know of his current whereabouts or his physical condition. In March 2017, Dawit Isaak was  awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.  In its unanimous decision, the jury cited its wish  to recognize Dawit  “for his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression.” He was also shortlisted for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (European Union).

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