By Abraham T. Zere / 16 September 2016

Scenes from Eritrea, photographs by Yonatan Tewelde

Scenes from Eritrea, photographs by Yonatan Tewelde

It initially sounded like a joke; gradually it got serious and then tragic. A decade and a half later, it is catastrophe.

Fifteen years ago on 18 September, 2001, fellow students of University of Asmara and I were confined in two labour camps, GelAlo and Wi’A, for defying a requirement of unpaid summer work. We were kept in the camps, under harsh, atrocious living conditions and open to the weather that normally reaches 45 C (113 F) for about five weeks. As we were preparing to return home, we learned the government had banned seven private newspapers and imprisoned11 top government officials.

The day after our homecoming, beaten down and demoralised, I went to meetAmanuel Asrat, chief editor of Zemen newspaper. About 10 days before that, he had received an article, in which I detailed our living conditions, that I had managed to get smuggled out of the prison camp. My piece was published in the last issue of the newspaper.

An atmosphere of fear pervaded Asmara. The environment had changed abruptly from heated and loud political debates to people resigning themselves to whispers and silence.

Unlike our previous meetings when Asrat greeted me with a joke, this time his dejection was obvious.

I do not remember exactly what we talked about, nor do I remember where we met. I assume Asrat must have expressed satisfaction about my safe return (as two students had died in the camp) and perhaps asked about my family. It’s possible we talked about the days before we had been sent to the prison camp. I do not know.

Yet, I remember vividly that we briefly talked about the letter I had sent him from the camp, and him explaining why he had published it anonymously. He didn’t want to incriminate me in its publication. Asrat also assured me that he had destroyed the original letter after publishing it.

What else do I remember from that encounter? Nothing substantial apart from him saying in a resigned tone, “Things are getting worse. It is inevitable we [the journalists] will also follow the political leaders [who had been imprisoned].”

At that point, we went our separate ways, probably hoping to meet some days later.

Before a second meeting with Asrat, I received the news of his and other journalists’ arrests. Even then, no one thought they would be held for more than a few days or weeks.

This is why journalistDawit Habtemichaelshowed up at his workplace the next morning — even after security had come to his home the previous day and hadn’t found him. He reasoned that they would arrest him and release him shortly thereafter, a common occurrence at the time. He arrived confidently at his office, prepared to be arrested. He probably felt that fleeing would be an act of betrayal to his colleagues and friends.

Contrary to expectations, both Habtemichael and Asrat have been kept incommunicado in secret prisons with 10 other journalists and 23 political figures for the last 15 years. The Eritrean authorities have never clarified their fates, but someallegedly leakedinformation by ananonymous whistleblowerindicates that only 15 of the total 35 prisoners are alive in the worst living conditions. The journalists who were incarcerated in connection with the press crackdown in 2001 are: Amanuel Asrat, Idris Said Aba’Are,Seyoum Tsehaye, Yousif Mohammed Ali, Said Abdelkadir, Medhanie Haile, Dawit Isaak, Dawit Habtemichael, Matheos Habteab, Fessaha “Joshua” Yohannes, Temesegen Ghebereyesus, and Sahle “Wedi-Itay” Tsegazeab. The leaked source allegedly states only five of the 12 were alive in deteriorating health conditions as of the beginning of this year.

So until the arrested journalists were transferred to an unknown prison outside the capital, many of us – and maybe even those who had been arrested – had high hopes that things would normalise and they would shortly be released from detention. Apart from the architects of repression, nobody guessed that the reign of terror and fear would last for 15 years – and continue to this day.

The culture of fear and hushed whispers gradually pervaded Eritrea until it became the nation’s signature reality. All roads began leading to dead ends. Silence and lack of cooperation became the only means of defiance that would not lead to arrest and imprisonment. The regime’s elimination of all independent media operating in the country conspired with a lack of public forums to effectively zombify Eritreans living inside the country.

Now it has reached a stage where failure to applaud unconditionally all actions taken by the government, no matter how irrational or arbitrary, can be considered as dissidence.

Over the last 15 years Eritreans have been pushed to the edge. Fear has been internalised. Nationals living inside the country are beaten down to docility and respond to orders and requirements without question. The country is plagued with harsh living conditions as a result of shortsighted policies, tattered institutions and a ragged social fabric characterised by mistrust.

Unlike 2001 when I was confident that the journalists would be released after a short time, in January 2015, I celebrated as miraculous the release of Radio Bana journalistsafter six yearsin prison without charges. Of course, I had no doubt they were all innocent, and the release of an earlier batch two years before confirmed this fact. Among them was a man who had been imprisoned for four years in place of another man who shared the same first name. In another nonsensical interrogation, related by one of the Radio Bana journalists who were released, authorities showed a print article as evidence of a broadcast allegedly aired by the opposition radio station.

No matter how long the Radio Bana journalists had stayed in prison or the sufferings they had gone through, their release was still big news to celebrate. Any release of political prisoners has been a rare occurrence in Eritrea, which is why many of us called the freed journalists to congratulate them. In a system that follows the perverted logic of “guilty until proven innocent,” it was important to celebrate their freedom  because no one can guess the irrational acts the regime repeatedly takes.

With the state media parroting ceaseless propaganda and hate-filled editorials, citizens have mastered a special skill: how to read between the lines. Most Eritreans do not listen to what the president says in his regular, repetitious interviews with the national media. Rather they read his gestures, listen to his tone and scan his appearance to get a feel for the state of the country. Many Eritreans check the media just long enough to determine whether he looks healthy or not.

This accumulation of fear, with a stifled media and ubiquitous censorship, has earned Eritrea the title of “most censored country in the world”, according to Committee to Protect Journalists. It also has placed it as the last country in World Press Freedom Index, as reported by Reporters Without Borders.


GENEVA (16 September 2016) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, today called on the Eritrean Government to urgently provide information on the whereabouts and state of health of senior government officials and independent journalists arrested on 18 September 2001 and in the following days.

Fifteen years ago, the Eritrean authorities arrested and detained a group of senior cabinet ministers, members of parliament and independent journalists without charge or trial. To date, the Government has refused to share any information on their whereabouts and state of health.

“The Eritrean Government has denied those arrested their fundamental right to liberty and security of the person, right not to be subjected to torture, right to a fair trial as well as right to freedom of expression and opinion,” Ms. Keetharuth said ahead of the anniversary on Sunday. “Those arrested have been detained incommunicado and in solitary confinement. Even family members have never been allowed to have any contact whatsoever with them.” 

“The 2001 clampdown set in motion a chain of egregious, widespread and systematic human rights violations that continues to this very day, including arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, denial of the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time, right not to be subjected to torture, and disappearances, among others,” the Special Rapporteur said. “In addition, the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well the right to freedom of the press has since then, also been negatively impacted.”

Earlier this year, the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea* –of which Ms. Keetharuth was also a member- concluded that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Eritrean officials have committed among others the crime of enforced disappearance, a crime against humanity.”

The Government of Eritrea said that the arrests and detentions of September 2001 were in response to national security threats posed by the prominent politicians and independent journalists. However, the expert stressed that “invoking national security as the main reason to violate basic fundamental human rights of Eritreans cannot be perpetual.”

“All those arrested in September 2001, as well as of all other detainees, including those arrested in the aftermath of the 2013 ‘Forto’ incident should either be brought to court or released unconditionally and immediately if not charged,” she said. “Furthermore, the Eritrean authorities should allow independent monitors to have unhindered access to all detainees in the country as a matter of priority.”
The Special Rapporteur recalled that Eritrea is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 2002, to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights since 1999 and to the Convention against Torture since 2014.

“However, it has consistently failed to give effect to their provisions guaranteeing universal fundamental human rights to its people,” Ms. Keetharuth noted. “It is time to reverse this trend and ensure accountability for past and ongoing crimes.”

(*) Check the Commission of Enquiry’s report:

Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea during the 21st Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2012.  She took her functions on 1 November 2012 and was member of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea (COIE) from June 2014 to June 2016.  As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.  A lawyer from Mauritius, she has extensive experience in monitoring and documenting human rights violations, advocacy, training and litigation in human rights in Africa. Learn more, log on to:

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Eritrea:

For press inquiries and additional information, please contact Ms. Françoise Mianda (+41 22 917 92 50 / ) or write to

For media inquiries related to other UN mandates:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / )

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S bokade Eritreanska föreningens lokal

Thursday, 15 September 2016 20:46 Written by

Hanif Bali (M) kritiserar arrangemanget. Foto: Olle Sporrong

Hanif Bali (M) kritiserar arrangemanget. Foto: Olle Sporrong
Socialdemokraterna i Solna hade sin kickoff i en lokal som tillhör Eritreanska föreningen, som enligt kritiker stöttar regimen.

Nu får de kritik för sitt samarbete.

– Vi är väldigt tydliga med att vi är starkt kritiska till diktaturen i Eritrea, svarar Arne Öberg (S), oppositionsråd i Solna stad.



* Från 1889 var Eritrea en italiensk koloni, men efter andra världskriget blev det enligt ett FN-beslut en del av Etiopien. När etiopierna 1962 upphävde det självstyre som utlovats bröt ett befrielsekrig ut som varade i tre årtionden.

* År 1991 intog rebellgruppen EPLF huvudstaden Asmara. Eritreanerna kunde 1993 utropa sin egen stat, med stöd av en ny regering i Etiopien. 1998-2000 rasade ett gränskrig mellan de båda länderna. Konflikten har förblivit olöst.

* Makten är koncentrerad till president Isaias Afwerki och hans parti PFDJ.

* När organisationen Reportrar utan gränser listar pressfriheten i världen hamnar Eritrea på 180:e plats, efter Nordkorea.

* Amnesty pekar på att tusentals politiska fångar sitter fängslade, ofta utan vare sig åtal eller dom. Den svensk-eritreanske journalisten Dawit Isaak sitter fängslad i Eritrea sedan 2001.

* Befolkningen är ungefär jämnt fördelad mellan muslimer och kristna.

Källa: Nationalencyklopedin, Utrikespolitiska institutet

När Socialdemokraterna i Solna stad skulle ha partimöte den 5 september lånade partiet Eritreanska föreningens lokal. Maten som serverades hade föreningen lagat. Arrangemanget får stark kritik av riksdagsledamoten Hanif Bali (M).

– Föreningen är trogen regimen i Eritrea och fungerar som diktaturens förlängda arm, säger han.

Även Arhe Hamednaca, svensk-eritreansk regimkritisk riksdagsman (S), beskriver föreningen som regimvänlig.

– Föreningen har tidigare år fått bidrag från Solna stad som vilken förening som helst. Men det hade varit bra om man gjort research innan man bokat lokal. Det var en miss av mina kolleger som tar avstånd från regimen, säger han.




Seminar on The Importance of Rule of Law in a nation

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 20:30 Written by


Germany and Eritrea – friends again?

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 20:47 Written by

Eritrea is often in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Scores of young Eritreans have fled human rights abuses in their country. A recent high-level panel tried to charter new ways for an Eritrean-German dialogue.

Poster in Asmara reading - welcome to Eritrea. Next to it, a man standing alone

"To compare Eritrea with North Korea is the most inaccurate thing I have heard in my life. It is totally wrong," Uschi Eid, a seasoned politician and president of the German-African Foundation said.

Eid, a long-time observer of Eritrean politics, made the remark at the opening of a panel discussion on the current political and economic situation in Eritrea and the future of German–Eritrean relations. The discussion, co-hosted by DW, brought together Eritrean delegates, including Yemane Gebreab, head of the ruling (and only party) People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and a number of high ranking German officials, media professionals and representatives of NGOs working in Eritrea.

For some of the experts gathered in Berlin, the often-cited comparison between Eritrea and North Korea was not too far-fetched. Eritrea's clandestine foreign policy agenda, a forced military service, alleged human rights violations and ongoing cross-border skirmishes with arch-enemy Ethiopia, but mostly the exodus of young Eritreans applying for asylum in Germany, have set alarm bells ringing.

When it gained independence in 1993 Eritrea was paraded as a beacon of hope for Africa. But critics point to the fact that the Eritrean government has still not implemented the constitution drafted in 1997, thus setting the newly-independent country on a path towards the authoritarian, one-party state that it is today.

Eritrea Podiumsdiskussion Yemane Gebreab

Gebreab: "We want to build a political system that is suited to our own situation"

In response, Yemane Gebreab, Eritrea's head of political affairs and a close advisor to President Isaias Afewerkitold DWthat many African countries have dysfunctional multi-party systems and constitutions that only exist on paper. He argued that Eritrea is simply pursuing its own, unique governance approach.

National Service: 'a very important project'

On of the main reasons for young people to leave Eritrea is said to be its forced conscription to the military or "national" service, which can take 10 years or more. The country is listed among the world's top 10 source countries of migration. In late 2015, the Eritrean government pledged to shorten its national service to its original 18 months. One year later, very little has changed on the ground and youngsters continue to flee in droves.

Undeterred by the criticism, Gebreab told the Berlin panel that for the sake of nation-building and in the light of persistent threats from its neighbor Ethiopia, his country "should be commended" for its national service. He also said that it secured much-needed job opportunities for young people. It's a "very important project" and has "proved its value," he told DW later.

In an emotional challenge to Gebreab's argument, Almaz Zerai, a representative of the diaspora Network of Eritrean Women, said the reality on the ground totally contradicted the statements made by the Eritrean government. She said it was high time for them to "go out of the state of denial." The announcement of the government to increase the payment to conscripts holds little value for the activist: "They tell us that now that the salaries are increasing, the problem is going to be solved," she told DW. "No. It [should be] about letting the youth live their lives - to let them live free as they want to," she argued.

Eritrea Bisha Mine bei Asmara

Eritrea's Bisha Mine is supposed to be the first of four mines in the country

War economy

Eritrea today receives very little foreign assistance. Official development aid stood at $83.3 million (74 million euros) a year in 2014, according to the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (DCD-DAC).

Although agriculture takes the first position as a driver of the GDP, the country is said to have huge natural resources, including gold, copper, zinc and potash. It currently has one new mine and three more are expected to be working by 2018. However, for Gebreab the current cash flow from mining "cannot even cover the bill."

To keep the economy afloat, cash-strapped Eritrea greatly depends on remittances sent home from exiled citizens around the world. It has been alleged that the government, desperate for money, turns a blind eye to the mass exodus in expectation of euros and dollars.

Where to go from here?

Eritrea Podiumsdiskussion Christoph Strässer

German MP Christoph Straesser says Germany needs guarantees that rights are respected

So where does that leave future relations between Germany and Eritrea?

The reported human rights violations have so far made German officials reluctant to engage publicly with Eritrea. "We cannot give development assistance to any country, be it Eritrea or any other, without any guarantees that political and civil rights will be respected," Christoph Straesser, a German MP and former Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for a parliamentary group of the Social Democtrats (SPD) party, tells DW on the sidelines of the conference.

The recent EU decision to award an additional 200 million aid package to Eritrea to stem the wave of refugees has been questioned by many. Critics argue that the allocation of funds could result in strengthening the Eritrean government's muscle in silencing dissent, thus increasing the magnitude of the migration crisis.

Straesser, who led a group of German MPs on a recent fact-finding mission to Eritrea, asserted that the fund should be channeled to fight the cause of migration rather than supporting the regime.

Echoing his sentiments, the exiled campaigner Zerai told the panelists that pouring millions of dollars would not change anything unless the regime "diagnosed itself and was ready for treatment."

Georg Schmidt, the Foreign Affairs Office's Sub-Sahara representative, summed up the state of affairs: The Eritrean people have a "hunger for bread and a hunger for justice," he said. What this means for Germany's re-engagement with Eritrea is something that needs careful consideration.


12 September 2016

Canada-based Nevsun Resources has sold and shipped the first zinc concentrate product from its Bisha mine in Eritrea, East Africa. 

Nevsun loaded a 10,000t lot at the Port of Massawa and sold the concentrate on the spot market.

Zinc flotation plant expansion at the Bisha mine was completed earlier this year. 

The company noted that the plant will allow the mine to produce separate copper and zinc concentrates simultaneously from processing primary ore from the Bisha open-pit mine.

"Bisha is the only significant new zinc concentrate coming to market in 2016." 

Nevsun Resources CEO Cliff Davis said: “We are pleased to have a high-quality zinc product coming to market in an environment of rising zinc prices. 

“Bisha is the only significant new zinc concentrate coming to market in 2016 and we are being aggressively courted for offtake by various customers.

“We would like to congratulate our partner, the State of Eritrea, for adding another export product to the economy and thank them for their support.”

The company plans to load additional shipments soon and is in the process of ramping up to commercial production, which is forecast for the fourth quarter of this year.

Nevsun owns 60% of the Bisha mine, which has nine years of reserve life and generates revenue from both copper and zinc concentrates containing gold and silver by-products. 

The State of Eritrea owns a 40% stake in the mine through the Eritrean National Mining Company (ENAMCO), with 30% of this bought from Nevsun before initial construction. 


'Eritrean migrants can return home safely'

Monday, 12 September 2016 23:23 Written by

Swiss investigation confirms Eritrean 'refugees' may return to home country safely.

Emily Rose,


Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

The Swiss Ministry of Immigration sent a delegation to Eritrea to conclude whether returning Eritreans will face punishment after leaving Eritrea to avoid military service.

Switzerland hosts the largest population of Eritreans in Europe and the delegation’s findings were similar to those found by delegations from Britain and Denmark, published earlier this year.

According to the report, draft evaders who left the country and checked in with their respective embassies by paying a tax of two percent of their earnings while away, could return to Eritrea without facing penalties. Those who left the country for more than 3 years are not required to complete mandatory service.

The report details that draft evaders who did return under duress did not face more than several months in prison and then returned to active duty. These findings were similar to those of British delegation which published its findings last month. The Swiss delegation also met with evaders from Israel who returned to Eritrea independently and report that they faced no consequences.

Additionally, many Eritreans complete alternate national service. Women are exempt from service after the age of 27 or after they give birth. There are also many Eritreans today that manage to avoid service altogether. According to the report, even if, in the past, the country had harsh consequences for evading service, today, the Eritrean government is much more forgiving.

Yonatan Yaakovovich from the Israel Immigration Policy Center stated that, “We are pleased to see that leading European countries are declaring that returning Eritreans will not face harm upon return. This is a positive development for the country and for Israel, as Eritrea is the country of origin for many asylum seekers in Israel.”


Published: Sep. 9, 2016

Two Eritrean Ministers are in Germany at the start of a campaign to breach European opposition to doing a deal with a government the UN labels “a serial abuser of human rights”; the UN says 5,000 people leave Eritrea every month.

Eritrea, politically isolated for years, and often called the ‘North Korea of Africa, is the biggest source of asylum seekers in Europe relative to its population, at 2.13% (Syria, by contrast, is 1.25%).

Eritrea is a “Country of Particular Concern” for the US State Department due to severe violations of freedom of religion. Many Christians who leave it via neighbouring Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt, have become easy prey for human traffickers, especially in the Sinai desert. Some of them were caught and beheaded in Libya by Islamic State. Still many have made it to Europe by boat: the percentage of Christians is hard to estimate, but to visit camps in, for example, Calais in France, it is clear that the Christian proportion is high.

Despite this, the German government is welcoming representatives of the Eritrean government for discussions. Talks in November 2015 laid the groundwork of how European institutions would co-operate with African partners to fight “irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings”.

This aim, says Martin Plaut, former BBC Africa Editor who’s visited the country several times “is laudable enough. But consider the implications through the eyes of a young refugee struggling to get past Eritrea’s border force, with strict instructions to shoot to kill, or to escape from the clutches of the dictatorship of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir”.

Under the plan Europe would offer training to “law enforcement and judicial authorities” in new methods of investigation and “assisting in setting up specialised anti-trafficking and smuggling police units”. The plans envisage Sudan receiving a range of computers, scanners, cameras, cars and all the necessary training at 17 border crossing points.

Germany has felt the consequences of the mass exodus: in 2015, 25,000 Eritreans sought asylum there.

Source: Martin Plaut

Eritrea Liberty Magazine Issue No. 40

Friday, 09 September 2016 20:44 Written by

All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea update

Friday, 09 September 2016 20:10 Written by

Good afternoon,                                                                                        

Please find below an update from the APPG on Eritrea.

The recent APPG meeting discussed the economic impact of indefinite national service in Eritrea. Daniel Nelson, News and Special Reports Editor at One World, who was in attendance at the meeting, wrote a summary outlining the contributions of the speakers and the dire economic and social impact of indefinite national service in Eritrea. The full article is available here


Charlotte King, senior analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, provided an analysis of the Eritrean economy, highlighting the dominance of party-controlled, State led firms, stifling any private sector enterprise. Professor Gaim Kibreab, research professor and course director of the MSc Refugee Studies at London South Bank University, discussed how the initially useful nation-building policy of national service was now producing terrible economic and social effects and is the prime reason for many Eritreans fleeing their homeland.


In other news, this August, the Home Office updated its guidance on asylum seekers from Eritrea -including those fleeing indefinite national service- following mounting pressure and criticism from various human rights groups and the Home Affairs select committee. The full guidance report is available here


Jim Shannon MP asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs what discussions he has had with the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea in reducing conflict in border areas between those countries, availablehere


Lord Hylton asked what action the Government and the UNHCR planned to take to protect Eritrean and Somali families now in Ethiopia, the Sudan, or South Sudan without legal status, availablehere


The APPG is currently planning its next meeting, and will be in touch soon with more information.

Thank you all for your continued support.