AN international spotlight will be cast on jailed Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak at the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair next week.
Visitors to the event can experience a unique way of showing solidarity with him and others whose voices have been silenced by participating in the installation Sit With Dawit.
Isaak, whose case has been taken up by The National, has been imprisoned for more than 15 years and deprived of his human rights for nearly 5,500 days.
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At Stand 3.1 L2 at the book fair, visitors will find a replica of his cell where they can sit for 15 minutes in solidarity with journalists and writers around the world who have been locked up without trial.
Previously, Sit With Dawit has appeared at Gothenburg Book Fair and the Bozar Centre of Fine Arts in Brussels. Leaders and politicians who have visited the installation include South Africa’s Bishop
Desmond Tutu, Belgian poet Tom van de Voorden, Icelandic writer Eirikur Orn Norodahl and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
At the Frankfurt Book Fair, translated excerpts from Isaak’s book Hope will also be on display. It contains his debut book Bana, his play, Dilly-Dally and a number of articles.
Isaak remains in Eritrean government custody, with no access to lawyers or his family. Meanwhile, his exact whereabouts and state of welfare are unknown.
The National’s involvement, which follows a request from Amnesty International campaigners in Glasgow, has been welcomed by the Free Dawit campaign in Sweden, where Isaak has citizenship, and his brother Esayas continues to campaign on the writer’s behalf. Esayas said: “Every day, every minute is important to us to remind the world, the Scottish people, about Dawit.”
“Year after year we hope maybe they will release him. They won’t tell us anything. They won’t even tell us where he is. If I could speak to him, I would say, ‘Keep alive, we do our best to release you’. But it is not easy to say ‘keep alive’ after 15 years.”
Dawit – who spent eight years in Sweden as a refugee during Eritrea’s war for independence from Ethiopia – was part-owner of Setit, Eritrea’s first independent newspaper, when he was arrested.
The move came after he reported on a series of letters from the so-called G-15 group, which called for advances in democracy in the Horn of Africa country, which gained independence in 1993. Most of the group was also detained without trial. Isaak, who has been awarded several freedom of speech honours during his imprisonment, was released in 2005 following pressure from the Swedish Government.
He called Esayas on his release, but he was detained again the following day after seeking medical treatment for injuries sustained during torture.
It was then feared that he had died in custody, but this summer Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh told journalists that Isaak is still alive, adding that he and several others will be put on trial “when the government decides”.