Sunday, September 18, 2011

Amnesty calls for release of Eritrea officials - AlertNet

16 Sep 2011 13:15

Source: Reuters // Reuters

* 11 senior govt officials jailed since 2001

* Group members had called for reform

* Sources claim death of some detainees

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA, Sept 16 (Reuters) - Rights group Amnesty International and the European Parliament on Friday demanded the release of 11 former Eritrean officials and a journalist who have been held incommunicado since a government crackdown in 2001.

Eritrea is routinely labelled by watchdogs as one of the world's worst offenders against human rights, but the Horn of Africa nation rejects the allegations and often accuses rights groups of working for foreign intelligence services to undermine the government.

Vice President Mahmoud Sherifo, Foreign Minister Haile Woldetensae, military Chief-of-staff Ogbe Abraha and eight central committee members were part of a group of 15 officials who criticised President Isaias Afewerki and asked for reform following Eritrea's 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia.

Asmara subsequently arrested 11 members of the group, saying they had conspired with Ethiopia to topple Isaias.

"The Eritrean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release 11 prominent politicians, including three former cabinet ministers, who have been held incommunicado without charge for 10 years," Amnesty International said in a statement.

"Their families must be told of their whereabouts, and they must be given access to lawyers as well as any medical treatment they need," added Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's Deputy Director for Africa.

The watchdog, which has described the detainees as prisoners of conscience, said prisons were "notoriously dire" in the Red Sea state with inmates subjected to soaring desert temperatures while incarcerated in underground cells and in shipping containers.

Amnesty said several members of the group were already suffering from illness before their arrest.

Eritrean government officials were not immediately available for comment.

A former prison watchman who guarded the Embatkala and Eraeiro camps where the detainees are held, and where temperatures can soar to up to 50 Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), said in May last year that Mahmoud, Ogbe and four other former central committee members had died due to illness and heat exhaustion.

The guard spoke to journalists in Addis Ababa days after fleeing to neighbouring Ethiopia.

Amnesty did not confirm the deaths, and Asmara has so far kept a tight lid on their whereabouts.

The Red Sea state last week charged Amnesty of plotting to incite a Middle East-style popular unrest, a claim the group immediately dismissed.

Asmara is also accused of clamping down on the media, and the European Parliament voted on Thursday for the release of Eritrean-Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak, who has been behind bars for ten years without charges filed against him.

Isaak has been held for 10 years as a prisoner of conscience, the EU lawmakers said in a statement.

The lawmakers further demanded the EU representatives to be given access to Isaak to determine his health care and other needs. (Editing by George Obulutsa)

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