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Eritrea: UN Experts Demand Release Of Human Rights Defender Held 20 Years Without Charge

eritrea un experts demand release of human rights defender held 20 years without charge
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GENEVA (18 August 2021) UN experts today demanded the
release of journalist and human rights defender Dawit Isaak,
imprisoned without trial in Eritrea since 2001, amid
uncertainty about whether he is even still

“To this day, Dawit Isaak has never been
charged with a crime, spent a day in court or spoken to his
lawyer,” said Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the
situation of human rights defenders. “The level to which
the Eritrean Government is ignoring Mr. Isaak’s basic,
fundamental human rights is appalling. He must be released
at once.”

In the first years of his detention, “we
received information that Mr. Isaak was often taken to
hospital, which was concerning in itself,” Lawlor said,
“Now we receive no news, and that’s worse. We fear for
his life. At an absolute minimum, Eritrea must immediately
present evidence that he is alive and well.”

Isaak, 56, a dual Swedish-Eritrean national, established one
of Eritrea’s first independent media outlets in the 1990s,
the Setit newspaper. In May 2001, it published open letters
written by a group of politicians known as the G15 urging
the Government to hold open elections and implement a newly
drafted Constitution. With the world’s attention diverted
by the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Isaak was
arrested on 23 September 2001.

According to a credible
source, Mr. Isaak was alive in September 2020, the first
sign of life in seven years. He is reportedly being held in
Eiraeiro prison, a detention centre infamous for its
conditions, where torture is allegedly common practice and
where many inmates have reportedly died in

“The enforced disappearance of Mr. Isaak
for almost two decades is extremely concerning,” said
Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on Eritrea.
“The Government of Eritrea has not confirmed his
whereabouts or provided any solid evidence about his state
of health in all these years. It has denied torture
allegations but has not allowed anyone to visit Mr.

Lawlor said she had rarely witnessed such
disregard for human life as she documents cases of human
rights defenders in long-term detention around the

“Locking up human rights defenders for long
periods of time may feel like a guarantee against internal
scrutiny,” Lawlor said. “But we have not

Mr. Isaak’s work has been recognised
by a number of prestigious awards, including UNESCO’s
Freedom of Press Award and the Sakharov Award.

Special Procedures mandate holders are in contact with the
Eritrean authorities on this matter.

The experts’
call is endorsed by: Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng,
Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental
; the Working
Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Chair), Mr. Henrikas
Mickevičius (Vice Chair), Ms. Aua Balde, Ms.
Gabriella Citroni and Mr. Luciano Hazan; and Mr.
Morris Tidball-Binz, Special
Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary


Mary Lawlor
(Ireland) is
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights
. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of
Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was
the founder of Front Line Defenders – the International
Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As
Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front
Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms.
Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of
Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a
member of the Board of Directors 1975 and being elected its
President from 1983 to 1987.

Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker
(Sudan) was appointed as
Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in
by the UN Human Rights Council in September
2020. Dr. Babiker is an Associate Professor of International
Law, Dean of the School of Law at the University of
Khartoum, and founding Director of its Human Rights
. He is also a practicing
lawyer and has conducted investigations in many countries in
the Horn of Africa in the areas of human rights and
international humanitarian law. He has extensive experience
working with international human rights organizations and
institutions, including the United Nations (UN) and the
African Union (AU). In December 2017, he was appointed by
the United Nations Secretary-General as Humanitarian Expert
with the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group. In December
2018, he was also appointed as the Humanitarian Expert with
the Panel of Experts on Somalia.

The Special
Rapporteur raised his concerns regarding the situation of
journalists and political detainees in Eritrea, including
the situation of Dawit Isaak, in his annual report, which
was presented at the 47th session of the Human Rights
Council in June 2021. To read the full report:

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