Saturday, September 24, 2011

Call from Eritrea: Pray, pray, pray (

Christians are being called upon to give special attention to the small country of Eritrea in prayer.

The African country of Eritrea is located between Ethiopia and Sudan. Jonathan Racho of International Christian Concern (ICC) says it is a country where religious freedom is extremely restricted.

"Thousands of Christians have been arrested for practicing their faith in Eritrea -- and some have been tortured, even to the point of being tortured to death," he describes. "And this has also been confirmed by a report by Wikileaks which indicates that Eritrean Christians are imprisoned under very difficult situations."

Racho says that includes being jailed in shipping containers in hot weather with little ventilation and unsanitary conditions, as well as limited food and water. The ICC spokesman contends that while not an international police force, the United States could do more.

"We call upon the State Department to undertake serious punitive measures against the regime so that they will understand that there is a consequence for violating religious freedoms," he urges.

U.S. law does call for several possible steps, ranging from diplomacy to economic sanctions.

The State Department has listed Eritrea as one of the top countries in the world for persecution -- in this instance, against Christians.

Eritrean Activists to Protest Isaias Afwerki in New York |

September 21, 2011 – Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC), a world-wide network of pro-democracy Eritreans, today announced that it will join several advocacy groups to denounce Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki during his New York visit to attend the United Nations General Assembly. Plans are underway for protest demonstrations to be held at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on Monday September 26, 2011 starting at 10:00 AM.
Known for his brutality and his totalitarian system that has rendered the young nation of Eritrea into Africa’s North Korea, Afwerki is also known for causing instability and havoc in the Horn of Africa by supporting Al-Qaeda linked extremists in the region. After repeated warning, the United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution in December 2009 (Resolution 1907) to sanction the regime, which for all intents and purposes remains the same to this day.
In April 2010, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order 13536, in which Eritrea’s top presidential advisor Yemane Ghebreab was among those who were sanctioned for financing terrorism. Yemane Ghebreab is also the founder of YPFDJ, a radical group which espouses anti-democracy and anti-American sentiments in Europe and the United States.
In Eritrea, Afwerki rules without constitution, parliament and rule of law. The private press has been banned since 2001; and tens of thousands of citizens remain in secret prisons under extremely harsh conditions for simply exercising their right to speak or worship. Hundreds of thousands of the country’s youth have also fled the country to escape extended period of forced labor without pay.
EYSC and their fellow Eritrean-Americans find it particularly disturbing that the dictator is planning to hold a meeting for his radicalized disciples in New York City on Sunday, September 25th. Given his heinous track record and his absolute stance against freedom of expression, lack of respect for human rights and his overt support of terrorist elements, we believe Isaias Afwerki’s presence in this great city is unwelcome. As we somberly remember the victims of September 11 or 9/11, it is particularly offensive for New York to play host to a despot who trounces liberty and freedom. New Yorkers should treat this tyrant exactly as they treated Ahmadinejad of Iran and Gadhafi of Libya with whom Isaias Afwerki is a close friend.
To add insult to an injury, Isaias Afwerki has also asked to meet with President Obama. EYSC believes that the United States should continue to isolate this brutal dictator and should not reward his despicable behavior, which is duly documented by the US State Department, the UN Monitoring Group and Human Rights Watch.
EYSC Administrators
Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC)

President Isaias Holds Talks With Leaders and Senior Officials of Different Countries allAfrica

Asmara — President Isaias Afwerki on 21 September, held extensive discussion in New York with the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sergey Lavrov, the British Minister of International Cooperation, Mr. Andrew Mitchell, as well as with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria.
Reporters of the Ministry of Information indicated that during the discussion between President Isaias and Mr. Sergey Lavrov at the UN headquarters, the President and the Russian Foreign Minister agreed on strengthening relations between Eritrea and Russia and enhance mutual cooperation. Moreover, they agreed that the relations should encompass economic, trade and investment, as well as international political issues.
President Isaias further expressed Eritrea's expectation that Russia as member of the Security Council should enhance its role as regards African development and progress.
Likewise, in a meeting at his suit with the UK Minister for International Cooperation, Mr. Andrew Mitchell, the President pointed out that development programs in Eritrea, especially ensuring food security are making headway. As a result, Eritrea is not affected by the famine hovering over the region, he elaborated.
Furthermore, President Isaias said that there exist ample opportunity to develop ties in the domain of trade and investment, and that both sides need to take practical steps to this end.
Mr. Andrew Mitchell said on his part that Britain supports Eritrea's current extensive and positive diplomatic activities and that it wishes to develop bilateral trade and investment relations. He further explained that his country would follow up the matter.
Recalling that he visited Eritrea in 2009, Mr. Andrew Mitchell expressed desire to visit Eritrea again and continue the talks with President Isaias. Besides, the British official delivered Prime Minister David Cameron's reply to the message President Isaias sent earlier regarding the border issues.
Similarly, during the talks the President held with his Nigerian counterpart, Mr. Goodluck Jonathan, the two leaders asserted that Eritrea and Nigeria are ready to work jointly towards ensuring African development, in addition to upgrading the continent's voice and role in international forums. Following exchange of views on issues of mutual interest and that of Africa, the two leaders assigned the Foreign Ministers of Eritrea and Nigeria to map out concrete programs aimed at developing relations between the two countries.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister, Mr. Osman Saleh, conducted exchange of views on issues of mutual interest with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Norway, Mr. Espen Barth, and the head of African Affairs in the German Foreign Ministry, Mr. Walter Lindner.

Friday, September 23, 2011

'Religious persecutors' list incomplete (

The State Department has issued its list of countries whose persecutory environments are "of particular concern."

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) welcomes the Obama administration's release of the Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, and the Commission is urging the U.S. government to increase action to promote freedom of religion or belief. Burma, Eritrea, China, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Uzbekistan are eight "countries of particular concern," but USCIRF spokesperson Elizabeth Cassidy says her group thinks the list is incomplete.

"We have six others that we think ... should be designated," she reports. "The most recent recommendations we made were in May of this year, and we believe that the six other countries that meet the standard are Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam."

The State Department can add new countries at any time, so USCIRF plans to continue trying to influence officials to designate those six as countries of particular concern.

"The U.S. government is then supposed to take some kind of action to either encourage religious freedom in that country, or, if it feels that that's not feasible, to sort of penalize that country," Cassidy explains. "There's a menu of options under the act. It can range from everything from negotiating an agreement with the country to make certain improvements -- ultimately, to potentially economic, or some kind of other sanction."

Concerning the eight countries the State Department did list, the Commission is hopeful the agency will follow up with vigorous U.S. diplomatic activity to improve conditions for religious minorities.

Eritrea: Free Political Prisoners 10 Years On | Human Rights Watch

President Isaias in New York to Demand UN Respect His Rights, Denies Them to His People
SEPTEMBER 22, 2011
Eritrea is effectively a giant prison, and international pressure should continue on Eritrea until President Isaias frees political prisoners and restores the rule of law. To start with, President Isaias should end the inhumanity of prolonged secret, silent detention and allow family members and international monitors to see the prisoners.
Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch

(New York) – Ten years after President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea ordered the detention of 21 senior government members and journalists who criticized him, his government should release the detainees or reveal their fate, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper released today. Eritrea should also open its jails to international monitors, Human Rights Watch said.

Isaias is visiting New York for the United Nations General Assembly in an attempt to rehabilitate his country’s image even as his government labors under UN sanctions for its role in supporting the Somali insurgent group al-Shabaab.

In the past 10 years, Isaias has closed all independent media outlets and turned Eritrea into a country where arbitrary arrest, torture, disappearance, and death are rife and where it is almost impossible to leave. The paper, “Eritrea: 10 Long Years, A Briefing on Eritrea’s Missing Political Prisoners,” outlines what is known about the political prisoners, none of whom has been seen by outsiders since being detained in September 2001.

“Eritrea is effectively a giant prison, and international pressure should continue on Eritrea until President Isaias frees political prisoners and restores the rule of law,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “To start with, President Isaias should end the inhumanity of prolonged secret, silent detention and allow family members and international monitors to see the prisoners.”

In mid-September 2001, Isaias ordered the arrest of 11 high government officials who had written open letters criticizing his rule. He also arrested 10 journalists who had published the letters and other information critical of him and his policies, and closed all independent newspapers.

The 20 men and one woman have never been seen again by anyone outside the penal system, including their families, lawyers, or prison monitoring groups. They have never been afforded a hearing; rather, all 21 were incarcerated in secret detention facilities in solitary confinement. According to former guards whose reports Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm, 10 of the 21 have died in prison and the remaining 11 are physically or mentally incapacitated and emaciated.

The 21 are the most prominent victims of Isaias’s denial of basic rights, but hundreds of thousands of others in the country of 5 million have been victimized during the past decade. The briefing paper recounts that thousands of Eritreans are incarcerated because they are suspected of not fully supporting the regime or have attempted to flee Eritrea’s compulsory and indefinite national service. They are given no access to a court and no means to appeal to any impartial body. Thousands more Eritreans are incarcerated because they are members of religious groups that the Eritrean government refuses to recognize as legitimate: Jehovah’s Witnesses, evangelical Christian churches, and reformist wings of the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

Since 2002, Eritrean men and women between 18 and 60 have been inducted into national service that extends indefinitely. Many conscripts are used in forced labor for government-party commercial enterprises or in businesses owned by high-ranking military commanders. Female recruits report frequent sexual abuse by military commanders. Pay is a bare minimum, inadequate to support a family.

A 2009 Human Rights Watch report, “Service for Life: State Repression and Indefinite Conscription in Eritrea,” described how political and religious prisoners and members of national service who object to the conditions under which they serve or who try to flee prolonged service, are tortured. Aside from severe beatings, torture methods included mock drowning, being shackled in painful positions, being trussed into tires and rolled about, and being hung from trees. Conditions of confinement amount to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Many prisoners are detained underground for months or years. Others are kept in shipping containers where temperatures are broiling during the day and freezing at night. Prisoners receive little or no medical assistance. Deaths in captivity occur frequently.

According to the UN refugee agency, about 3,000 Eritreans flee the country every month. Leaving national service or fleeing the country without permission is considered tantamount to treason by the authorities.

Isaias is in New York to object to sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council on him and his government because of Eritrea’s alleged violation of an arms embargo on Somalia and Eritrea’s invasion of Djiboutian territory in 2008. Isaias complains that the council had not given Eritrea an opportunity to refute the evidence against it and to receive a fair hearing. He has not accorded such rights to the people of Eritrea for the past 10 years.

“Instead of lobbying the UN, President Isaias should allow people to speak freely, to worship as they please, and to leave Eritrea if they want,” said Bekele. “Eritreans will continue to face prolonged, indefinite national service, repression, and torture unless President Isaias changes his abusive policies.”

Human Rights Watch said other nations should not send Eritreans who flee back home because they would be at risk in Eritrea simply for having left the country.

United Nations Webcast - Eritrea, General Debate, 66th Session

Isaias Afwerki, President PDF

23 September 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thousands of Eritreans flee forced conscription - Times LIVE

Sapa-AFP | 19 September, 2011 06:52

Eritrean soldiers. File photo.
Image by: AFP

For 12-year-old Eritrean refugee Ablel, the decision to flee his country was relatively simple.

"I didn't want to be a soldier," he says with a shy smile, revealing a mouthful of crooked teeth.
Getting out, however, was a harder challenge. He is one of thousands of youngsters risking death to sneak across Eritrea's heavily militarized border every month into neighbouring Sudan and Ethiopia.
Most, like Ablel, are running from open-ended military conscription imposed by the autocratic, isolated and impoverished government of the Red Sea state.
"The ones who become soldiers, even they are escaping, so why would I want to be in military service?" Ablel said, sitting in Ethiopia's Endabaguna refugee camp.
He escaped Eritrea on foot in June, leaving without telling his family -- a common practice in a country where family members are reportedly often jailed after a relative leaves, accused of involvement in helping their escape.
Ablel said he left because authorities closed his school to use the land for military training, with a new school not due to open for two years.
"I couldn't wait," he said.
This month marks the tenth anniversary of mass arrests of hundreds of politicians, journalists and suspected spies by Asmara. Experts say the country's human rights record has deteriorated in the past decade.
The United Nations refugee agency said nearly 3,000 Eritreans flood into Sudan and Ethiopia every month from Eritrea, a country of some five million people and about the size of England.
"(They're escaping) gross human rights violations, including forced conscription into the army," UN spokesperson Kisut Gebre Egziabher told AFP.
National service is compulsory for all citizens -- male and female -- at the age of 16, completing their final year of school in military camp.
Conscripts earn about $3 per month for the first 18 months and the service can last for decades. Many end up working as indentured labourers building roads or in the country's newly opened foreign-run mines.
Amanuel Giorgio, Eritrea's first secretary to the UN, said national service is an obligation and denied the program is connected to human rights abuses.
"I don't know how national service is in any way related to human rights," he told AFP.
Eritrea is one of the least developed countries in Africa, with a per capita GDP of $369 and one of the worst human rights records in the world, according to the UN.
The regime of former rebel Issaias Afewoki is propped up by a compulsory two percent remittance tax extracted from Eritreans living abroad, which the UN estimates to be 1.2 million people.
Newly arrived refugees in Ethiopia's north say there is little industry and therefore few jobs available. The country's only university was shut down in 2006, with military-run colleges opening instead.
"The only option for a farmer, for a soldier or for a student is to leave the country," said Eritrean refugee Isaak. "If you are lucky you will make it across. If not they will shoot you."
Fellow refugee, 18-year-old Samson, said he was frightened of dying at the border, but said he had no choice but to leave Eritrea.
"I didn't want to join the military service," the acne-riddled teenager said. "When I heard the rumour that some people were killed by soldiers (at the border) I was so scared. Still, when I reached the border I could not believe it, I feel so lucky."
The effect of losing so many young men is far-reaching, according to Human Rights Watch Africa researcher Ben Rawlings.
"The best brains are leaving," he said. "I think it's having a terrible effect on Eritrea."
Last month, Eritrea applied to rejoin the East African peacekeeping bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development and Afewoki visited Uganda, suggesting that the closed country is trying to end its regional isolation.
But author Michela Wrong says the move is not likely improve relations for the country viewed as a "troublemaker" in the region.
"It's too little, too late," said Wrong, who wrote a book about Eritrea's 30-year long war for independence with Ethiopia.
The UN recently called for tighter economic sanctions after releasing a report linking Eritrea to a failed bomb plot at the African Union and of supporting Somalia's extremist Shebab rebels, claims Asmara rejects.
Eritrea became "very alarmed at the level of hostility that is being shown in the international community and also in the region," Wrong said.
A former colony of Italy and then part of Ethiopia, Eritrea fought a 30-year war with Ethiopia and only gained independence in 1991.
A subsequent border conflict with Ethiopia from 1998-2000 still simmers, which analysts say Asmara uses as an excuse for its continued iron-rule.
"There's no sign of any improvement of basic freedoms in the country," Rawlings added. "At the moment, the future looks bleak."

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Eritrea TV - English News - 15 September 2011 - Eri.TV - YouTube

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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)