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Published on September 29th, 2011 | by Gerald Callaghan
Image © [caption id="attachment_3811" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Democracy Protest: Free Eritrea ©Steve Rhodes"][/caption] With all of the focus on events in Libya and the uprisings throughout the Middle-East, it is of little wonder why one of Africa's most repressive regimes is overlooked. In the north of Africa's east-coast there lies a country ravaged by 50 years of conflict, despotism and human rights violations. It was over ten years ago last week, when the eyes of the world were still focused on the aftermath of 9/11, that the Eritrean government under the leadership of President Isaias Afeworki, launched a brutal political purge. Using the distraction of the atrocities in the US, the brutal leader, on the 23rd September 2001, imprisoned 11 high ranking government officials for openly criticising his regime. He imprisoned a further 10 independent journalists for publishing these criticisms, and banned all eight of Eritrea's independent newspapers. Reporters' Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said, "All the privately-owned publications were shut down. The country embarked on an era of terror from which it has yet to emerge. Ten years later, no one can continue to ignore the Eritrean regime's brutality." Over 30 journalists are detained in Eritrea, making it the second largest oppressor of the free media after China. In April 2009, a report from Human Rights Watch warned that the government was turning the country into a giant prison and called on the US and the EU to coordinate with the UN and the African Union to resolve regional tensions and ensure that "development aid to Eritrea is linked to progress on human rights." Despite winning its freedom in 1991, and gaining an almost unanimous referendum vote for independence in 1993, the country has been marked by years of instability and conflict. Pres. Isaias has launched a blistering attack on the fundamental freedoms of expression, opinion, assembly and the media. Based on more than 50 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, the report describes the way in which the Eritrean government utilises a vast apparatus of official and often secret detention facilities to imprison thousands of its citizens without charge or trial. Many of the prisoners are detained for their political or religious beliefs; others because they tried to evade the indefinite national service or flee the country. In a joint Motion for Resolution the European Parliament has called for the immediate release of the high ranking officials and political prisoners, and the extension of medical treatment to these prisoners. Many of whom are held in containment facilities that reach broiling conditions during the day, causing their skin to blister, and drop to below freezing at night. Of the original 21 detainees, 10 are believed to have died. Of the remaining 11, their conditions, as reported by former prison guards, are said to be that of mental incapacity and emaciation. The EU will consider the EP's motion in the coming weeks, along with Member State governments and the African Union, one thing is for sure, the world can no longer ignore the Eritrean governments' complete disregard for basic human rights.

7

Ten Years On: Eritrea’s Forgotten Faces

Democracy Protest: Free Eritrea ©Steve Rhodes

With all of the focus on events in Libya and the uprisings throughout the Middle-East, it is of little wonder why one of Africa’s most repressive regimes is overlooked. In the north of Africa’s east-coast there lies a country ravaged by 50 years of conflict, despotism and human rights violations.

It was over ten years ago last week, when the eyes of the world were still focused on the aftermath of 9/11, that the Eritrean government under the leadership of President Isaias Afeworki, launched a brutal political purge.

Using the distraction of the atrocities in the US, the brutal leader, on the 23rd September 2001, imprisoned 11 high ranking government officials for openly criticising his regime. He imprisoned a further 10 independent journalists for publishing these criticisms, and banned all eight of Eritrea’s independent newspapers.

Reporters’ Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said, “All the privately-owned publications were shut down. The country embarked on an era of terror from which it has yet to emerge. Ten years later, no one can continue to ignore the Eritrean regime’s brutality.”

Over 30 journalists are detained in Eritrea, making it the second largest oppressor of the free media after China.

In April 2009, a report from Human Rights Watch warned that the government was turning the country into a giant prison and called on the US and the EU to coordinate with the UN and the African Union to resolve regional tensions and ensure that “development aid to Eritrea is linked to progress on human rights.”

Despite winning its freedom in 1991, and gaining an almost unanimous referendum vote for independence in 1993, the country has been marked by years of instability and conflict. Pres. Isaias has launched a blistering attack on the fundamental freedoms of expression, opinion, assembly and the media.

Based on more than 50 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, the report describes the way in which the Eritrean government utilises a vast apparatus of official and often secret detention facilities to imprison thousands of its citizens without charge or trial. Many of the prisoners are detained for their political or religious beliefs; others because they tried to evade the indefinite national service or flee the country.

In a joint Motion for Resolution the European Parliament has called for the immediate release of the high ranking officials and political prisoners, and the extension of medical treatment to these prisoners. Many of whom are held in containment facilities that reach broiling conditions during the day, causing their skin to blister, and drop to below freezing at night. Of the original 21 detainees, 10 are believed to have died. Of the remaining 11, their conditions, as reported by former prison guards, are said to be that of mental incapacity and emaciation.

The EU will consider the EP’s motion in the coming weeks, along with Member State governments and the African Union, one thing is for sure, the world can no longer ignore the Eritrean governments’ complete disregard for basic human rights.

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  • Chait

    Nice Gerry! I am so surprised I didn't get to hear about this situation in any kind of news. I hate it how news media is controlled and they tend to focus on stories that will get their ratings high! I am interested to know about the US and EU's response to UN's appealed help.

  • Elinor

    Very well written, and sadly all so true. For years now Dawit Isaak a Swedish citizen has been imprisoned for exactly the reasons listed above. For belonging to the free press. It is time for the Eritrean government to set him and all other prisoners like him free. Free Dawit Isaak!!

  • Ryan

    You think If Eritrea was still extracting oil there would be a 'humanitarian' intervention?

    • Daniel

      Possibly, if you look at the interventions in libya and afganistan as a stepping stone for iraq. and the lack of western help for burma or east timor then oil or natural wealth definitely has something to do with foreign aid recieved!

  • jesse

    freedom!

  • Rousey

    Great article Gerry , a great insight into something that is not well documented, well written.

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