Sunday, June 5, 2011

Media Watch: UK’s Halfhearted Measures on Eritrea’s Isaias Afewerki | Foreign Policy Journal

Ruthless Incommunicado Imprisonment

Over five months into their arrest in the Port of Massawa by the Eritrean navy, the four ex-marines have not been charged with any crime, and their condition and whereabouts remain unknown. The British Government has retaliated by imposing limited travel restrictions on Eritrean diplomats in London and by banning the collection of taxes imposed by the Asmara government on Eritreans residing in Britain.

The four Britons were captured on Dec 24, 2010 as they guarded a merchant vessel against armed Somali pirates operating in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. [Editor's Note: Accounts vary] President Isaias accused the four Britishsailors of carrying weapons including sniper rifles when they stopped in Massawa for refueling. The Eritrean complaint is that its maritime laws have been violated. We will not know what the violations are unless the accused can also tell their side of the story.

To this end, the British are asking for a trial. What a naïve request. One thinks the UK would by now know the Eritrean regime does not believe in trials. There are thousands of innocent Eritreans rotting in prisons for over a decade because of their beliefs or views. They never had their day in court. They are being tortured and many have died. And it is very sad the four British nationals also have to be subjected to Isaias’s whimsical decisions.

Britain’s retaliatory action is too weak to make a dent. Isaias is not interested in cooperating with Britain or the rest of the international community in attacking Somali pirates. He sure must have been pissed off when he first learned of thejob the ex-marines were engaged in. Isaias is already angry that Britain has failed to approve his military and financial support for the Al Qaeda linked Al Shabab in Somalia. Instead, Britain pushed for an African Union and UN backed resolutions in 2009 imposing sanctions on the Eritrean regime including arms embargo, travel restrictions on officials and freezing of their assets.

The incommunicado jailing of the ex-marines and Isaias’s subsequent dispute with Britain mean the UN sanctions are working to some degree. The feud may also be confirming Isaias’s anxiety that the sanctions could one day be made to apply to the country’s Western-run mining industry which is based on slave labor.

Commemorating Eritrea’s 20 Years of Independence

President Isaias’s Chief Propagandist, Ali Abdu (Information Minister), has been spouting his most boring, thoughtless Stalinist spin over the definition of democracy although Stalin and communism have long been dead. In a VOA interview, last week, Ali Abdu claimed Eritrean democracy was laying the groundwork for the people to enjoy political stability and live in harmony regardless of tribal or clan differences. Ali ridiculed the concept of balloting and elections of national leaders as inimical to Eritrea’s objective conditions. He lectured one of the ham-fisted Tigrinia language VOA reporters, Tewelde Weldegebriel, that no country in the world allowed free press while Eritreaenjoyed a superior, development oriented, people’s media. For heaven’s sake, why can’t VOA train its reporters how to put follow-up questions to interviewees?

While the state media have bizarrely been hailing the regime’s wretchedperformances of the past 20 years, exiled Eritreans in North America, Europe and Ethiopia have been staging demonstrations denouncing tyranny and urging the UN to tighten its sanctions against the regime. Opposition websites have also been crying out for an end to the endless suffering of the Eritrean people. In an editorial entitled “20 Years of Indignity,” writes, “The last 20 years have been a chronicle of humiliation of the ordinary citizen: senseless wars fought over nothing only to follow in dishonorable surrender; land lost; people displaced; youth dispersed; old men and women humiliated; religious leaders disrespected; children separated from their parents to be raised by the State at conscription centers….”

Meanwhile, in a press release, the Eritrean Global Solidarity (EGS) urges citizens to observe the anniversary with defiance and contemplation in memory of the nearly 400 Eritrean refugees who lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea as they searched for freedom and peace in foreign lands. carries a lengthy review of the regime’s tragic failures. In a research paper, entitled “Eritrea’s 20th Anniversary Comprehensive Report Card”, (, May 16, 2011), the author, Berhan Hagos, underlines all the major areas of endeavor where the regime has failed the country miserably including on matters of human rights, governance, democracy, rule of law, the economy, social justice and foreign affairs.

Two thirds of the population is malnourished, according to the UN. Berhan reports that while Eritreans are suffering, President Isaias has concealed over 2-billion US dollars of illicit funds under his name and that of his son’s in Chinese banks. Berhan says of the 1-billion US dollars spent on development projects over the past two decades, over 70 percent of the funds were given by Western governments, the UN and NGOs.

Worsening Ethio-Eritrea Relations

Without offering an argument or discussion, has a banner headline at the top of its front page: Eritrea to Ethiopia: Vacate from All Our Territory to Normalize Relations.” This is no doubt Eritrea’s wish although Ethiopia does not believe vacating from the flash point of Badme and marking its border with Eritrea would normalize relations. In an interview in March with Editor Amanuel Iyasu, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi questioned whether President Isaias was interested in peace and normalization under any circumstance. So, the impasse continues. The scenario helps Isaias to try to remain in power indefinitely.

The most urgent question for Eritreans is how to swiftly end totalitarian rule in the country. Whether the border is demarcated or not, it is abundantly clear to opponents and supporters of the Eritrean regime that Isaias will never willingly allow freedom and democracy in the country.

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