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Eritrean journalist’s case referred to African rights panel

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By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

October 30 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - European jurists have brought the cases of long imprisoned Swedish-Eritrean journalist and activist, Dawit Isaac to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

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According to Reporters Without Borders, Jesús Alcalá, Percy Bratt and Prisca Orsonneau referred the cases of the journalist to ACHPR on 27 October, a day that marks his 12 year imprisonment without trial in an Eritrean prison.

The Red Sea nation has in the past affirmed that its own court system is independent and could legally handle the case of Dawit Isaac and other journalists who have remain languishing in the country’s harsh detention facilities for over a decade.

The latest move by the European Jurists was in response to Eritrea’s court failure to respect and exercise the civil right to obtain a writ of habeas corpus as protection against illegal and arbitrary imprisonment.

“Eritrea will now be forced to an embarrassing process before the African Commission for failing to writ of habeas corpus” said the Paris-based watchdog while welcoming the initiatives taken by the European jurists.

Reporters Without Borders noted that the imprisonment of Dawit Isaac runs counter to both Eritrean law and several African and international conventions.

Based in Gambia, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) protects and promotes human rights within the African Union under the framework of the rights guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Accordingly, the Commission among others decides whether alleged human rights abuses that violate the Charter were committed and further investigates human rights violations through fact-finding missions.

After Ethiopia last month pardoned and released two Swedish journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye - who were accused of terrorism related charges - Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, said that the his government is working to free Dawit Isaak.

The Swedish government said Isaak’s case was not only priority to the Swedish government but also priority within the EU, which has made repeated calls for his release.

Isaak, who is a 48 and married with three children, was imprisoned by the Eritrean authorities in 2001 after publishing articles that were critical of the Eritrean regime, particularly calling for democratic reforms in one of the most repressive nations of the world.

He then published his articles in one of the country’s first independent newspapers, Setit, which he co-founded. the newspaper was closed-down when the government cracked down on independent press outlets, arresting dozens of prominent journalists and dissidents.

Since his imprisonment 12 years ago, many of Isaac’s colleagues have died in prison. In August Reporters Without Borders reported that three more journalists had perished in Eritrean prisons.

In October 2011 there were rumors that Issak had died in prison.

Last year Dawit Isaac was awarded the 2011 Golden Pen of Freedom, a distinction presented by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) for his commitment to press freedom, democratic reforms and civil liberties.

International press and human rights groups label the tiny Red Sea nation as one of the world’s top press freedom violators and Africa’s leading jailer of journalists.

Currently there are at least 30 Eritrean journalists are imprisoned facing inhuman and ill treatment on a daily bases, according to human rights groups.

(ST)

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