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Eritrea

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Last updated on 11.10.2018 at 11:32

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Repressive policies continue despite thawing tensions in the Horn of Africa

Repressive policies continue despite thawing tensions in the Horn of Africa

Relations with Djibouti renewed, but freedom of expression still under attack as writer is arrested after criticizing government

Expression

According to Human Rights Concern Eritrea, on 17th September 2018, former Eritrean Finance Minister Berhane Abrehe was arrested by national security forces in Asmara and taken to an undisclosed location. Berhane had recently released a controversial book titled ‘Ertra Hagerey’ which criticizes the Eritrean president and calls on the Eritrean youth to rise up for democratic change. In an audio message, a prelude to his book, Berhane also outlined a process by which the President could surrender power to the Eritrean National Assembly in a “peaceful, legal, civilized and Eritrean manner.”

Authorities are yet to charge him or provide reasons for his arrest. His nephew, Solomon Habtom said:

“It’s not only about Berhane. Berhane is a symbol… we are happy for the peace process between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but we also want to see the end of this kind of dictatorship in the country.” 

His wife, Mrs. Almaz Habtemariam was also previously arrested for allowing their son leave the country without an exit visa, and has been jailed incommunicado for more than a year. She is a member of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and has been part of Eritrea's liberation struggle the mid 1970s. 

In an interview with Voice of America, Fisseha Tekle, a Horn of Africa researcher at Amnesty International said:

“We ask the Eritrean government to release Berhane Abrehe unconditionally and immediately and also his wife, Almaz Habtemariam.” 

Association

In a further thawing of tensions in the Horn of Africa, on 12th September 2018, it was reported that Djibouti and Eritrea would soon formally normalise relations between the two countries. Relations between the two countries deteriorated and froze after a 2008 border skirmish.

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also recently signed a peace agreement re-opening the border, and restoring the two countries' relations after 20 years.

While several States in the Horn of Africa called on the UN General Assembly in September to lift economic sanctions against Eritrea, this regional rapprochement has yet to actually translate into the relaxing of Eritrea’s egregious human rights policies, including the arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment of political prisoners

Association in Eritrea

The brutality meted out by the Eritrean state means that no human rights organisations or activists are able to operate openly from within Eritrea.

The brutality meted out by the Eritrean state means that no human rights organisations or activists are able to operate openly from within Eritrea. Human rights organisations operating from outside Eritrea have described the country as ‘a big prison for its own people.’ People attempting to flee the country risk arrest and detention in one of Eritrea’s networks of secret detention centres across the country, in which detainees are kept in inhumane conditions and regularly tortured. As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, individual liberties are also denied through the continuing practice of forced and indefinite conscription into the armed forces, whereby conscripts are forced into harsh conditions, low pay and forced labour. A 2005 proclamation provides a regulatory framework for nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), but their activities are strictly limited to implementing relief and rehabilitation activities and those that seek to engage in other activities can be held criminally liable.

Peaceful Assembly in Eritrea

Eritrea’s constitution says that ‘all persons shall have the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably.’ In practice, this right is completely denied...

Eritrea’s constitution says that ‘all persons shall have the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably.’ In practice, this right is completely denied, and given the huge risks involved for protestors, most demonstrations against the state take place in other countries. Groups, including student unions, which were likely to stage protests against increasing repression, have been disbanded and their leaders arrested. Faced with the threat of attack, in 2013 and 2014 activists distributed posters calling for Eritreans to demonstrate their opposition to the state by staying at home and emptying the streets on Fridays.

Expression in Eritrea

For eight years, Eritrea has been ranked the worst country in the world on the World Press Freedom Index.

For eight years, Eritrea has been ranked the worst country in the world on the World Press Freedom Index. Human rights groups in the region report that at least 23 journalists are imprisoned in Eritrea, including Dawit Isaak and Seyoum Tshehaye, who have been held incommunicado since 2001; fifteen years later, their families do not know if they are still alive. The last foreign journalist was expelled from Eritrea in 2004, having reported on human rights issues. The government controls the only printing house in Eritrea and according to the International Telecommunications Union, less than 1% of people had access to the Internet in 2014. Despite the high risks, activists continue to try to circulate independent information, even distributing an underground newspaper in Asmara in 2013.