Repressive policies continue despite thawing tensions in the Horn of Africa

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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.” 

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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