UNESCO award for Dawit Isaak 'sign of hope' to free imprisoned Eritrean journalist
31 March 2017 – An imprisoned Eritrean-Swedish journalist who was arrested in a crackdown on the media in September 2001 and was known for his critical and insightful reporting has won a prestigious United Nations prize dedicated to promoting press freedom.
An independent international jury of media professionals recommended unanimously Dawit Isaak in recognition of his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression for the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2017, said the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) in a press release earlier this week.
“Defending fundamental freedoms calls for determination and courage – it calls for fearless advocates,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova on the selection of Mr. Isaak, who was last heard from in 2005 and whose present location is unknown.
“Some have given their lives in the pursuit of truth. Many have been imprisoned,” emphasized Cilla Benkö, President of the Prize's 2017 jury.
According to Ms. Benkö, Mr. Isaak has spent nearly 16 years in jail, without charge or trial. “I sincerely hope that with this award the world will say, 'Free Dawit Isaak Now.'”
A playwright, journalist and writer, Mr. Isaak moved in 1987 to Sweden, where he later became a citizen and went into self-imposed exile. After the independence of Eritrea, he returned to his homeland to become one of the founders and reporters of Setit, the first independent newspaper in the country. He was known for his critical and insightful reporting.
UNESCO noted that Mr. Isaak joins a long list of courageous journalists who have persevered to shed light in the dark spaces; keeping their communities informed against all odds.
The $25,000 Prize is named in honour of Guillermo Cano Isaza, a Colombian journalist who was assassinated in front of the offices of his newspaper, El Espectador, in Bogotá, on 17 December 1986. It is funded by the Cano Foundation (Colombia) and the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation (Finland).