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

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.


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.