Amnesty International has received reports of detentions of members of the armed forces including national service conscripts. Many are said to be held in Tsetsarat military prison in Asmara, and others in prisons in military zones. One such case is that of General Bitweded Abraha who is reported to be still held incommunicado and without charge in an Asmara police station after being arrested in 1992. Several officers arrested in 1993 when some sections of the armed forces briefly took over key installations on the eve of independence are also reportedly still secretly detained without charge in Tsetsarat prison, such as Tewelde Zemichael, Tesfaldet Tewelde and Hadera Kahsu, a medical doctor. An Eritrean airforce pilot arrested during the war with Ethiopia in January 1999, Abdulrahim Ahmed, who had previously been a member of the ELF, is reportedly still detained without charge or trial.

National service regulations require six months’ military service, a further 12 months development service and military reserve obligations, for all men and women aged between 18 and 40. There is no recognition of conscientious objection. Former EPLF fighters can be recalled for service at any time, and those who have completed national service can also be recalled for reserve duties. During and since the war with Ethiopia, the military service of conscripts was extended indefinitely and few have been demobilized to date. Conscription continues on a substantial scale, carried out by house and street searches.

Those who refuse national service are forcibly conscripted, detained, beaten and ill-treated as punishment. Conscripts are subject to military law but no information is available to Amnesty International on any judicial processes against conscript offenders where the penalty for refusing national service is reported to be three years imprisonment.

Prominent among those refusing conscription are members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower) Christian sect, which opposes national military service on religious grounds. There have also been reports in the past year of defections of soldiers and young people fleeing the country to avoid military service. Desertion is harshly punished for. Those liable to conscription caught fleeing the country or forcibly returned to Eritrea after seeking to avoid conscription would be detained and punished for refusing conscription and leaving the country illegally without an exit visa.

Arbitrary detention of government critics
and journalists