AI Index: AFR 64/004/2003 (Public)
News Service No: 217
18 September 2003
Embargo Date: 18 September 2003 01:00 GMT
Eritrea: Continued detention of prisoners of conscience and new arrests of members of religious groups
On the second anniversary of their arrests, Amnesty International is urging the Eritrean government to release 11 members of parliament and 10 journalists who have been detained without charge or trial. They are prisoners of conscience imprisoned solely for expressing their non-violent opinions.
In further repression of the right to freedom of opinion and belief, there have also been new recent arrests of members of religious faiths. Arrests also continue against people refusing military conscription or deserting it.
"This seems to give a message that the protection of basic human rights has little meaning in Eritrea. The government must act urgently to free all prisoners of conscience. Other political prisoners should be given fair trials without further delay; secret detention, torture and "disappearances" must stop; and national service regulations should be revised to allow the right to conscientious objection."
Members of parliament in prison: The eleven detained members of the parliament were leading figures in the independent struggle by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (now the government), alongside President Issayas Afewerki. They include the country’s vice-president and former foreign minister, Mahmoud Ahmed Sheriffo; two other former foreign ministers, Haile Woldetensae and Petros Solomon; and the former army chief, Ogbe Abraha. They had led a growing new movement calling for democratic reform and a multi-party political system with fair and free elections.
The ten journalists were initially held quite openly but after they went on hunger strike they too were taken to secret prisons (of which there are many in Eritrea) and have never been seen or heard of since. The detained journalists include Fessahaye "Joshua" Yohannes, an EPLF veteran and poet; Medhanie Haile, a lawyer; and Seyoum Tsehaye, former head of the state television service. Three other journalists in the state media were detained later, one was detained in 2000, and Aklilu Solomon, a reporter for the US-based Voice of America radio station, was detained and re-conscripted in July 2003, despite apparently having a medical exemption. This brings to 15 the number of journalists currently held in secret detention.
Further arrests including conscripts and returnees: The 18 September 2001 detentions were followed by further waves of new dissenters and critics in the civil service and military particularly. Some had publicly called for change, others apparently were held for criticising the government in private remarks. There have been numerous detentions in the conscript army.
Conscription for men and women between 18 and 40 officially lasts for 18 months (6 months military training and 12 months development service) but in practice is indefinite. There is no right to conscientious objection. This has become the main cause of the flight of asylum-seekers.
Over 200 Eritreans - mainly army deserters - who were forcibly returned by Malta in late 2002 have not been seen since; others are currently detained in Malta and Libya and at risk of deportation. Others have had asylum applications rejected in the United Kingdom and elsewhere and fear being deported.
Dozens of Muslims have also been detained incommunicado since 1995 on suspicion of links with armed Islamist opposition groups.
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20 7413 5566
Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW. web: http://www.amnesty.org/
For latest human rights news view http://news.amnesty.org/
|E-mail this page||Printer friendly|