TORONTO, Oct. 17, 2012 /CNW/ - Eritrean journalist and playwright Dawit Isaak is PEN Canada's Empty Chair at the International Festival of Authors 33 (IFOA 33). Isaak has been held, without charge or trial, for more than a decade since President Isaias Afewerki's clampdown on Eritrea's independent press in 2001.
The Empty Chair, now in its 18th year at the IFOA, is used to highlight the case of a silenced writer who is unable to travel freely, or to appear at literary festivals around the world. Previous Empty Chairs include the Iranian human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, Nigerian activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, and the Turkish publisher Hrant Dink.
Dawit Isaak was arrested in September 2001 along with dozens of journalists and opposition politicians. Since then Dawit and at least 12 other journalists have been held without charge or trial, reportedly in appalling conditions. Five years ago, reports indicated that four of Dawit's colleagues had died in custody between 2005 and early 2007. In September 2012, Reporters Without Borders reported the deaths of three more journalists.
Isaak lived in Sweden during the Eritrean war of independence and the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and he holds Swedish citizenship. He is said to be the only Swedish prisoner of conscience in the world. His detention has continued despite repeated international appeals for his release. In May 2007 the African Commission on Human and People's Rights (ACPHR) ruled that Isaak and his colleagues had been arbitrarily and unlawfully detained and called on the Eritrean government to release the detainees and pay them compensation.
In 2011, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) awarded Isaak The Golden Pen of Freedom, its annual press freedom prize.
PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right, at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada.
SOURCE: PEN Canada
For further information:
Brendan de Caires, PEN Canada, (416) 703-8448 ext. 21 | firstname.lastname@example.org