By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
March 13, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - Media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, said on Wednesday that, the African Union’s main human rights body has decided to investigate the case of imprisoned Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak.
Eritrean authorities detained Isaak in September 2001 for writing articles critical of the government and has since been held incommunicado.
He is one of the many journalists and reform-minded government figures who remain languishing in Eritrea’s underground detention centers since a government crack down in 2001.
The Swedish office of Reporters Without Borders has highly welcomed the decision of African Union human rights panel to probe Isaak’s case.
The press freedom group also commended the concerns shown by the newly-appointed Special Rapporteur for Eritrea over the situations of Eritrean journalists.
"It is important step forward and will increase the pressure on the Eritrean government" said Jonathan Lundqvist, president to the Swedish section of Reporters Without Borders.
Dawit Issaak’s case was referred to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on 27 October, by three European jurists.
Lundqvist says bringing the case to the AU panel would not only put more pressure on the Eritrean government but also will make the case an African issue.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights will soon begin examining the case by first requesting explanations from the Eritrean government as to why the Red Sea nation breached the country’s law as well as several African and international human rights conventions the country is signatory for.
Established by the African Union (AU), the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights was designed to protect and promote human rights and interprets the African Charter.
Eritrea’s Supreme Court has in the past refused to hear the case although the government states that habeas corpus is a principle respected and that the country’s courts are independent.
International human rights organisations routinely label the country as one of the planet’s most repressive. Eritrea has for many years been ranked among the worst places to be a journalist, jailing more members of the press than any other African country
According to investigations revealed by Reporters Without Borders last August, four journalists, who were detained around the same time as Isaak, have died in prison.
Isaak is among dozens of journalists arrested during government crack down in 2001 along with 15 senior government officials who were also then arrested after criticizing President Isaias Afewerki and asking him to allow political reform following the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia.