CIVICUS

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Eritrea

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Last updated on 07.05.2018 at 11:09

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Mass arrests during protest around death in custody of Islamic school director

Mass arrests during protest around death in custody of Islamic school director

Police in Asmara arrested and detained hundreds of people after the burial of Haji Musa Mohamed Nur, who died in custody in early March 2018. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has raised concerns about the authorities complete denial of reality on the appalling state of press freedom in Eritrea.

Peaceful assembly

Police in Asmara arrested and detained a large number of people after protests took place around the burial of Haji Musa Mohamed Nur who died in custody at age 93 in early March 2018. Many protesters were arrested near the Sheikh Alamin cemetery, where the burial took place, and were taken to the Adi Abeito Prison. Haji Musa, a former director of a private Islamic school and a co-founder of the Eritrean Liberation Struggle, was arrested in October 2017 after refusing to enforce a government ban on the veil or hijab.

Haji Musa is believed to have died on 1st March at a police station in Asmara, and security officials allegedly transferred his body to a government hospital the next day. The government told his relatives to collect his remains without explaining the cause of death.

Sheila Keetharuth, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, described the authorities' crackdown on the protests:

“Reports reaching me from credible sources point to the arrest of hundreds of people, mainly males, some of them children as young as 13 years, after the burial of Haji Musa…the indiscriminate mass arrests [...] during the past week were carried out to quell any kind of protest or resistance in the face of human rights violations…"

The Special Rapporteur said independent observers and researchers continue to be denied access to the country.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Haji Musa’s death comes weeks after news emerged of the death of another prominent prisoner Haile Woldetensae Durue who had had been detained incommunicado since 18th September 2001, when the government jailed senior pro-reform political figures and independent journalists.

Expression

Credibility of state report to African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights questioned

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has raised concerns over the first-ever state report by Eritrea to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Due to issues with the state report's accuracy and credibility, RSF submitted a shadow report to the Commission with a bleak assessment of the state of press freedom in Eritrea and which differs greatly from the government's more positive assessment of the situation. Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk, noted the major issues affecting freedom of expression in the country, stating that:

“While the Eritrean government’s report is a first, it nonetheless constitutes a complete denial of reality…freedom of expression and information is non-existent in Issayas Afeworki’s dictatorship, which is still Africa’s biggest jailer of journalists. Seventeen years after Eritrea shut down all independent media outlets, it is time to free the many journalists who are detained arbitrarily”.

The Eritrean government presented its report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on 28th and 30th April during the Commission’s 62nd ordinary session in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott.

Eritrea is ranked second from last, 179th out of 180 countries, in RSF's most recent World Press Freedom Index.

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.