27 September 2011


Journalists face threats in covering Dawit Isaac's imprisonment

Incident details


Meron Estefanos, Journalist


Mats Larsson, Journalist
Axel Oberg, Photographer
(CPJ/IFEX) - New York, September 26, 2011 - A Sweden-based journalist was publicly threatened Friday in connection with her reporting on the case of Dawit Isaac, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist who has been imprisoned in Eritrea for a decade without charge, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. A day earlier in New York, bodyguards for the Eritrean leader Isaias Afewerki pushed and threatened two Swedish journalists seeking to speak to the president about the Isaac case, the journalists said.

Meron Estefanos, a contributor to the leading Eritrean diaspora news site Asmarino, was confronted Friday by Tedros Isaac, a brother of the detained journalist whose strong support of Afewerki is extensively documented, after a public forum on the Isaac case at the Gothenburg Book Fair in Sweden.

"You mention my name and write about Dawit Isaac's family one more time I'll cut your throat," witnesses and Swedish Radio SR quoted Tedros Isaac as telling Estefanos. In a 2010 column published on Asmarino, Estefanos wrote about the deep political divisions that have split Eritrean families into pro- and anti-government camps. In the column, Estefanos had contrasted Tedros Isaac's ongoing support for the government that arrested his brother with the extensive advocacy to free the journalist that has been undertaken by other brothers.

Sweden's Expressen newspaper reported Friday that Estefanos had given a statement to the police and quoted Thomas Fuxborg, a local police spokesman, as saying that a preliminary police report had been written.

The confrontation occurred on the 10th anniversary of Isaac's September 23, 2001, arrest. Detained in a broad crackdown on independent journalism, he has been held without charge or trial since that time, with only brief contact with his family in 2005, according to CPJ research. Estefanos, who spoke at Friday's forum, has been one of the leading activists in Sweden campaigning for the release of Isaac and other political prisoners in Eritrea, according to CPJ research. At least 17 journalists are now being held in Eritrea prisons, according to CPJ research.

A statement released by the Gothenburg Book Fair and signed by Nobel prize laureates Mario Vargas Llosa and Herta Müller, as well as John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International, called on Sweden and the European Union to take a tougher approach toward Eritrea to secure Isaac's release. CPJ research shows the Eritrean government has used agents and proxies to intimidate the country's exile press.

A day earlier in New York, bodyguards for Eritrean President Afewerki roughed up and threatened two Swedish journalists seeking to ask the president questions about Isaac, according to CPJ interviews. "I got an elbow in the stomach," Mats Larsson, U.S. correspondent of Expressen newspaper, told CPJ, describing how he and photographer Axel Oberg were pushed aside after they approached the president as he walked near United Nations headquarters. When Oberg later tried to take photos of Afewerki, the journalist told CPJ, another bodyguard attempted to seize his camera and made hand signals as if to slit his throat.

"We're relieved that Swedish police are investigating the reported threats against Meron Estefanos," said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. "It's disturbing that bodyguards for President Afewerki tried to intimidate journalists Mats Larsson and Axel Oberg in New York. There is no place for threats against reporters trying to do their jobs."


Putting free expression issues in perspective.

Sign up to receive IFEX In Context.

More from Eritrea
  • Shadow Report to Initial National Report (1999-2016) from the State of Eritrea

    Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuses the Eritrean government of a complete denial of reality in its first-ever report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights and announces that it has submitted an alternative "shadow report" with a much darker assessment of the state of press freedom in Eritrea.

  • Freedom of the Press 2016: Eritrea

    17 journalists were imprisoned in Eritrea as of December 1, 2015, the most in sub-Saharan Africa

  • Freedom of the Press 2015: Eritrea

    Ranked 195th in annual global media freedom report

At this point, would publish: "Home page"
At this point, would publish: "Journalist freed without charge after four years in jail"
At this point, would publish: "IFJ urges government to allow released journalist to leave country, free others held since 2001 clampdown"
At this point, would publish: "Freed journalist sent back to jail"
At this point, would publish: "RSF urges Eritrean diaspora to intercede on behalf of imprisoned journalists on 2,000th day since "Black Tuesday""
At this point, would publish: "RSF urges democratic governments to summon Eritrean ambassadors on anniversary of 18 September 2001 crackdown"
At this point, would publish: "Journalist Dawit Isaak held without trial for almost eight years, believed to be seriously ill "
At this point, would publish: "Journalist Dawit Isaak still in prison after more than eight years"
At this point, would publish: "Journalists still hunted down nine years after September 2001 purges"
At this point, would publish: "Detained journalist's brother and RSF tell Sweden and EU they are legally bound to actively seek his release"
At this point, would publish: "RSF calls on Parliament to seek imprisoned journalists' release"
IFEX is a global network of committed organisations working to defend and promote free expression.
Permission is granted for material on this website to be reproduced or republished in whole or in part provided the source member and/or IFEX is cited with a link to the original item.