In October 2011 Isaak received the Golden Pen of Freedom Award of the World Association of Newspapers. The award was handed over in Vienna to his brother Esias Isaak. "The Golden Pen of Freedom breaks the Eritrean government's attempts to create a wall of silence around Dawit and all other imprisoned journalists," said Esias.
Every day I am reminded of the vital significance of freedom — something that we usually just take for granted. I often wonder what Dawit is doing. Is he still sane after all these years of uncertainty? Where does he get the strength to persevere?
Dawit Isaak is a Swedish-Eritrean journalist and human rights defender, who has been imprisoned and held incommunicado in Eritrea since 2001, without charge or trial. His whereabouts are unknown. His wife and his three children are currently living in exile in Sweden.
In 1987, Dawit Isaak moved from Eritrea to Sweden, and five years later he became a Swedish citizen. In 1993, when his home country gained independence, he returned to Eritrea. Back home, the human rights defender started working for Setit, the country's first independent weekly newspaper, and he later became co-owner of the publication.
In 2001 a group of politicians - later named G15 - published a series of open letters where they criticise President Isaias Afewerki and call for democratic reforms. Dawit Isaak reported on these letters in his newspaper, as his motto was “If you have the opportunity to write, do it.”
On 23 September 2001, Isaak was arrested in his home in Asmara. He was 38 at the time of the arrest. Since then, there has been little or no news about his case.
According to some sources, Isaak has been held in solitary confinement and tortured. In 2002, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that Isaak had been hospitalised due to torture. The human rights defender was briefly released on 19 November 2005 but he was detained again on 23 November. Interim Information Minister Ali Abdu explained he was only allowed to have a "medical check-up", due to his deteriorating health condition. Unconfirmed reports said he might have been treated either at Halibet or Sembel Hospital in Asmara. At some point in 2009, he was taken to the Air Force Hospital in Asmara and also admitted twice to Asmara's Kedeste Mariam (St. Mary) Hospital, a psychiatric clinic.
“Each day and every minute for Dawit is a severe violation of his human rights. No one deserves this kind of treatment. Every day I am reminded of the vital significance of freedom—something that we usually just take for granted. I often wonder what Dawit is doing. Is he still sane after all these years of uncertainty? Where does he get the strength to persevere? At the moment there are no answers to these questions, but until we get them it is our duty to support him and to spread information about Dawit’s tragic fate,” Esayas Isaak, Dawit Isaak's brother, wrote in a piece for Swedish PEN's Dissident blog.
More info on Dawit Isaak can be found in the Free Dawit campaign page that was set up by his family and friends.