JOURNALIST Dawit Isaak was arrested by two security officers after calling for greater democracy in Eritrea in 2001.

He remains in government custody today, with no access to lawyers or his family. Meanwhile, his whereabouts and state of welfare are unknown.

Today, exactly 15 years after his detention began, The National takes up his case and joins international calls for his release.

Our involvement, which follows a request from Amnesty International campaigners in Glasgow, has been welcomed by the Free Dawit campaign in Sweden, where Dawit 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.”

Speaking about the impact of the anniversary on his family, Esayas went on: “It’s the same like last year and the year before – it is a really bad day. 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 this group was also detained without trial. Dawit, 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 once again the following day after seeking medical treatment for injuries sustained during torture.

Since then, it has been feared that he had died in custody, but this summer Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh told journalists he is still alive, adding that he and several others will be put on trial “when the government decides”.

On the anniversary of his detention, the Free Dawit campaign is stepping up pressure on Eritrean authorities and calling on the public to help.

A windowless replica cell has been installed in Stockholm’s central station to encourage travellers to stop and “sit with Dawit” for 15 minutes to reflect on his plight.

On The National’s involvement, a spokesperson said it could help “put pressure on Eritrea to release Dawit or at least give a date for trial”, adding: “Media campaigns are very important, we are convinced that the attention keeps him alive.”

Meanwhile, Dawit’s children and family are gravely concerned about his welfare. Esayas said:

“No-one is allowed to visit him. When we try to ask about him, they say ‘you have no right to ask, it’s not your business’.”

When asked if Dawit – a “quiet and thoughtful” person who “always had a pen in his shirt pocket” – understood the risks of criticising the government of President Isaias Afewerki, Esayas said: “He wasn’t afraid. His last articles were about the future – where is our country going, where are we going?”

He went on: “I don’t know why they don’t say ‘now it’s over’.

“This regime is so evil they don’t have any limits. Our parents passed away in 2003 and 2010 and Dawit doesn’t know that. It is so terrible.”

Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, said: “We welcome The National’s decision to campaign on behalf of disappeared Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak.

“He was arrested along with nine other independent journalists in September 2001 and unfairly detained, enduring hunger strikes in prison and the deaths of many of his fellow detainees. Since 2009, his location has been unconfirmed but Amnesty International believe he is seriously ill, though the nature and extent of his illness remain unknown and the government of Eritrea refuses to confirm any details of his case.

Journalists around the world are being persecuted for their work, and many are now among the ranks of the disappeared.

“The press must be free to report the human rights abuses they document to the wider world.”