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Eritrea Justice Minister: "Dawit Isaak's case shall be settled in court"

Eritrea's Justice Minister, Fozia Hashim

This article was translated from Swedish using online software

Sweden should focus on getting Ethiopia to comply with international law and withdraw from the territories they occupy in Eritrea. Then the detained journalist Dawit Isaak can get a trial, Eritrea's Justice Minister Fozia Hashim said in an interview with Martin Schibbye in Asmara.

By Martin Schibbye | Blankspot

A stone's throw from Eritrea's main street and the Supreme Court are two contiguous buildings in white plaster.

Outside there is no guard or sign indicating that this is where parts of the country's political leadership is sitting.

In the staircase up to Minister Fozia Hashim's spacious offices on the second floor of the Ministry hangs an iconic picture depicting female soldiers who are storming up a hill during the long war of independence.

But 26 years have passed since victory and no general election, a free press, and with a conscription system that forces thousands to flee. Last year, the UN unveiled the country's "comprehensive and systematic human rights violations" as a crime against humanity.

Something the government dismisses here as "unfounded" and "politically motivated" allegations.

After a period of questions and discussion about it and the situation in Ethiopia, I wonder if Dawit Isaak, arrested in his home on September 23, 2001, still lives.

"Who?" The Minister of Justice asked.

Dawit Isaak.

"We have talked about him for several years, his case has become more political than legal, so I can not say so much in the capacity of the Minister of Justice. It is not a question whether he lives or not. All I know is that people are talking about him, but they do not present his case in our courts," said Fozia Hashim.

She does not explain what "they" are talking about him or who fail to present his case in court.

Dawit Isaak has never been charged and the government of Eritrea has not allowed anyone to meet him.

"As an Eritrean, he can both seek protection and be charged with the judicial system in Eritrea. I know. But I do not have details."

But it has been so many years without a trial. He has a family, a daughter who has already turned 20 without her father.

"Everything will be resolved in a trial. That's basic. But why does the outside world look so much at individual destinies, why not look at the whole picture? We have laws relating to national security and they are very clear - so instead of discussing an individual, Sweden and Eritrea should be as two nations solve the fundamental problems: what happens to the determined border conflict with Ethiopia, what happens to the sanctions?" asks Fozia Hashim.

During the morning, the UN Security Council, with the numbers 11-4, voted in favour of continuing sanctions against the country.

Sweden, too, has voted in favour of sanctions, something that the Minister noted.

Although she does not admit that Dawit Isaak serves as a political hostage to claim concessions from Sweden, she is clear that it is not her responsibility as a Minister for Justice that Dawit Isaak has his case tried.

According to her, it is a matter for the President and the Foreign Minister.

"What I can promise is that the justice of an Eritrean context will eventually win. We are working on building institutions in Eritrea so that we can continue to celebrate the proud historical tradition of law-abiding citizens and law enforcement institutions."

So the question will be resolved within the Eritrean legal system?

"Yes, of course! When the case comes to the court, they may say that 'These are my rights ' and ' this is the law to be followed '. We're working on it.

The Justice Minister is aware that Eritrea's Foreign Minister Osman Saleh made a statement that a trial was the next step for the group detained in 2001 - but she can not go into details about when or how such a trial could take place.

"We are in a process where we ensure that our institutions are strong so that we can enforce our laws against criminal acts," said Fozia Hashim noticeably annoyed about getting questions she regards as political and not legal.

On September 23 this year, 16 years had passed since Dawit Isaak was imprisoned.

Martin Schibbye has just returned from Eritrea and is working on a new, longer series of reports from the country. The above statements are part of further interviews with the ministers that addressed several issues and will be published in the future. Read an interview about the trip here.

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