Friday, January 25, 2013

Eritrea Officials Arrest 10 Church Leaders; Christians Fear Increase in Persecution

By Alex Murashko , Christian Post Reporter
January 24, 2013|9:59 am

Although an incident in which dissident Eritrean soldiers seized the country's information ministry earlier this week is now being downplayed as not a coup attempt, a heightened tension between political and faith groups remains. The Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors says that at least 10 leaders of churches banned by the government have been arrested.

"The arrest of 10 church leaders in Eritrea could be the start of another wave of systematic persecution in this unpredictable, tiny country bordering the Red Sea," says Open Doors USA Media Relations Director Jerry Dykstra. "The Muslim and Christian population is almost split 50-50. But President Isaias Afewerkie has targeted independent Christians over the last decade. A government official once declared there are three enemies which need to be eradicated – HIV/AIDS, the regime in Ethiopia and independent Christians."
Over the past year, Open Doors reported that 31 Christians have died in prison camps.
"Once arrested, religious prisoners cannot appeal in court for official hearings because they are never officially charged and are not allowed to be represented by a lawyer," Dykstra explained. "The moment a prisoner is taken to court one is guilty even before he or she is charged because being a member of the underground church or attending religious meetings is an automatic crime. In other words, there is no justice for most independent Christians."
There have been several such campaigns in the past, but church leaders fear that this particular campaign is far more serious because it wants to "eradicate the underground church by targeting its key leaders around the country," according to Open Doors USA.
Since news of the renewed systematic arrests emerged, several church leaders have gone into hiding for a second time in only a few months. According to trusted Open Doors sources close to the events in Eritrea, church leaders have remained in good spirits despite these pressures.
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For Christians in Eritrea, an eastern African country of 4 million, the past few months have been a somewhat of a roller-coaster ride. After the death of the Ethiopian Prime Minister in August last year, there was heightened tension in Eritrea. Christians testified that talk of renewed fighting between Eritrea and Ethiopia after the demise of one of their long-time rivals led to a very grim atmosphere. There were reports of the government circulating rifles to households in case war broke out. Some Christians described those months of uncertainty as their darkest night while praying earnestly for the light of a new dawn for their country.
These tensions were then followed in December by the news of the release of 31 Christian students kept at Sawa Military Training Centre since 2006. The group of students from Mai-Nefhi University included 14 females. They were arrested after refusing to participate against their conscience in cultural dancing during Independence Day celebrations.
The believers later testified that despite the difficulties they faced in the harsh prison conditions, they were never placed in a situation where they were forced to deny their faith. Some of the women were apparently enticed with release in exchange for sexual favors. None gave in, but remained strong in the faith, Open Doors USA reported.
Reports of the coup on Monday came amid speculations that President Afewerki's health is worsening. He has traveled abroad in the past to seek medical attention for a liver condition, but official information services refuted these speculations, insisting the 66-year-old was in good health.
Reports of the coup were met by mixed reactions. Some observers fear even more repressive measures by the government to keep society in check.
"Eritrea is ranked No. 10 on the Open Doors World Watch List which was released two weeks ago," Dykstra stated. "Eritrean Christians value our prayers as their circumstances remain uncertain."

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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Coup Attempt Is Said to Fail in Eritrea -

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GARSEN, Kenya — Eritrea, a sliver of a nation in the Horn of Africa that is one of the most secretive and repressive countries in the world, was cast into confusion on Monday after mutinous soldiers stormed the Ministry of Information and took over the state-run television service, apparently in a coup attempt.
President Isaias Afwerki
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According to several people with close contacts inside Eritrea, the coup attempt failed, with government troops quelling the would-be rebellion and no one rising up in the streets. But many analysts said it was only a matter of time before President Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s brash and steely leader for the past 20 years, is confronted again — and most likely from within.
“There’s a lot of dissatisfaction within the armed forces,” said Dan Connell, a professor at Simmons College in Boston and the author of several books on Eritrea. “If this is suppressed, it won’t be the end.”
Eritrea is often called the North Korea of Africa because it is so isolated and authoritarian, with few friends and thousands of defectors in recent years as Mr. Isaias tightens his grip and the economy teeters on the brink of ruin.
In the early 1990s, when Mr. Isaias first took power, Eritrea was hailed as a beacon of hope in Africa, a country of low crime, ethnic harmony and can-do spirit along the Red Sea. The Eritreans fought for years in trenches and from craggy mountaintops to defeat a Soviet-backed Ethiopian government and win their independence.
But the euphoria did not last. In the late 1990s, Eritrea and Ethiopia waged a costly war over their shared border, in which tens of thousands of people died. Shortly afterward, Mr. Isaias rounded up political dissidents and journalists, dooming them to years in prison, often in sweltering, underground shipping containers.
Thousands of young Eritreans have been drafted into the army and then required to work indefinitely for the government for pittance wages in what is called “national service.” Each year, many young people risk their lives to escape. Eritrea has waged war with just about all of its neighbors, and the United Nations has imposed sanctions on Eritrea over what is suspected to be its support of Somali militants.
By nightfall on Monday, it seemed that the government had beaten back the mutineers, with some analysts saying that the government broadcaster, Eri-TV, was back on the air.
The rebel soldiers, believed to number around 100, made it as far as the director’s office in the Ministry of Information, forcing him to read a statement on air calling for the release of political prisoners. Then the broadcast abruptly cut out. They also may have briefly taken hostage Mr. Isaias’s daughter, Elsa, who is said to work in the ministry.
It was not clear what happened to the renegade soldiers; analysts said that troops loyal to the government had surrounded the Ministry of Information and that the mutineers would most likely be captured and imprisoned.
The State Department said that the situation remained fluid, and the small embassy in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, sent out a warning on Monday to the few American citizens living there. “The U.S. Embassy has been made aware of increased military presence in some sections of Asmara,” the warning said. “Employees of the U.S. government have been advised to limit their movements within the city, avoid large gatherings and exercise caution. We strongly recommend that private U.S. citizens do likewise.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

Eritrean troops lay siege to ministry ministry of information

Eritrean soldiers with tanks laid siege to the information ministry on Monday and forced state media to call for political prisoners to be freed, a senior intelligence official said.

The renegade soldiers had not gone as far as to call for the overthrow of the government of one of Africa's most secretive states, long at odds with the United States and accused of human rights abuses.

Eritrea has been led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke from bigger neighbor Ethiopia.

Soldiers had forced the director general of state television "to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners," the Eritrean intelligence source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate statement from the Asmara government.

Accusing Eritrea of torture and summary executions last year, the United Nations human rights chief estimated that 5,000-10,000 political prisoners were being held in the country of about 6 million people.

State media went off air after the call for prisoners to be freed, the intelligence official and diplomats in the region said. One Western diplomat in neighboring Ethiopia said other buildings might have been seized by soldiers too.

The gold-producing state, on a strategic strip of mountainous land along the Red Sea coast, is one of the most opaque countries on the continent and restricts access to foreign reporters.

Eritrean opposition activists exiled in neighboring Ethiopia said there was growing dissent within the Eritrean military, especially over economic hardship.

Despite its relatively small population, Eritrea has Africa's second biggest army.

"Economic issues have worsened and have worsened relations between the government and soldiers in the past few weeks and months," one activist told Reuters.

Eritrea broke from Ethiopia in 1991. The two countries fought a 1998-2000 war over a border which remains disputed. Relations between them are perennially strained, with Eritrea denying accusations it backs Ethiopian insurgents.

The United Nations' Security Council imposed an embargo on Eritrea in 2009 over concerns its government was funding and arming al Shabaab rebels in neighboring Somalia - charges Asmara denied.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters Isaias survived an assassination attempt by a disgruntled soldier in 2009.

Eritrea moved to quash speculation last year that Isaias was sick. It showed television pictures of him lambasting the United States for spreading lies about his condition. He has no obvious successor.

Asmara has accused the United States of working behind the scenes to topple Isaias. A U.S. diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks described him in 2009 as an "unhinged dictator".

Gold companies with mines or projects in Eritrea include Sunridge Gold Corp, Nevsun Resources Ltd and Chalice Gold.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Eight Yemeni fishermen missing, possibly detained by Eritrea

Eight Yemeni Fishermen Missing, Possibly Detained By Eritrea

National Yemen
Gulf of Aden Map
By Baseem Al-Janani
Sources have reported no updates on the condition of eight fishermen who were reported missing over a month ago on their voyage to the Red Sea.
Fathi Al-Hamidi, a brother of two of the missing fishermen, said that his brothers went fishing with six others on a boat named Al-Raida last month and that they had been heading for Al-Sawabai’e Island in the Red Sea.
“A Few days after their departure, we lost contact with them and so informed security officials, who were unable to obtain any clear proof of where were are or what happened to them,” said Al-Hamidi.
The owner of the boat, Hodeida resident Ali Yousuf Sulaiman, said that although he informed security officials in the governorate about the lost boat, they were slow to react to the problem. He was recently informed that the boat was found sunk near the coastal border of Sudan and Eretria, Sulaiman said.
“A number of Eritrean fishermen have told me that the crew had been detained in Eretria by Eritrean security forces, which suggests to me that they are still alive.”
The families of the missing fishermen, who reside in Al-Obadia village, have appealed to President Hadi to reveal what has happened to their relatives, as they, the families, remain unaware of whether their relatives are alive or not.
On an annual basis, Eritrean officials arrest hundreds of Yemeni fishermen – most of whom are from Hodeida – and confiscate their boats and possessions, often violating basic rights.
125 Yemeni fishermen who were released by Eritrean officials were found to be suffering from deteriorating health; the fishermen stated that Eritrean authorities had tortured them in a number of ways. The released fishermen said that hundreds of Yemeni fishermen remained in detention in Eritr

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Britain facilitating mining firms' talks with repressive Eritrean regime | World news |

Eritrea’s largely untapped mineral wealth has provided a badly needed boost to the country's economic prospects in recent years. Photograph: De Agostini/Getty Images
The British government has been facilitating talks between a range ofmining and investment companies and the Eritrean government, whosehuman rights record is castigated in a Human Rights Watch report that says companies rushing to exploit Eritrea's rich resources risk involvement with widespread exploitation of forced labour by the regime.
Details of those who attended a roundtable meeting organised by the Foreign Office during a visit by officials from Eritrea, one of the world's poorest and most repressive countries, were released under the Freedom of Information Act.
They included representatives from Scottish International Investment Ltd, Investec, Frontier Markets Fund Managers, Copper Tree Capital, Plaza Holdings Ltd and the shipping company Nectar Group Limited.
Also present were representatives of Cluff Geothermal, a London-based exploration, production and consultancy company; Andiamo Exploration Limited, a private UK company exploring for gold and base metals in Eritrea; and Arabian Nubian Resources (ANS), a Guernsey-registered resources company exploring for gold and other resources. ANS boasted in an investor presentation in December 2011 that it had a "five-year relationship in Eritrea".
There is no suggestion that any of the companies at the talks last year have been involved with any exploitation of forced labour.
Two months before the roundtable, the UN security council toughened sanctions against Eritrea after east African neighbours accused it of continuing to provide support for the Somali Islamist insurgent group al-Shabaab, a self-declared affiliate of al-Qaida,
The resolution, put forward on the back of accusations denied by Eritrea, requires foreign companies involved in the country's mining industry to ensure that funds from the sector are not used to destabilise the region.
In a report released on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch says Eritrea's government continues to maintain a "national service" programme that conscripts Eritreans into prolonged and indefinite terms of forced labour, generally under abusive conditions, and that international mining firms "rushing to invest in Eritrea's burgeoning minerals sector" risk involvement in serious abuses unless they take strong preventive measures.
"If mining companies are going to work in Eritrea, they need to make absolutely sure that their operations don't rely on forced labour," said Chris Albin-Lackey, business and human rights senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "If they can't prevent this, they shouldn't move forward at all."
Eritrea's largely untapped mineral wealth has provided a badly needed boost to the country's economic prospects in recent years, according to the report, titled Hear No Evil: Forced Labour and Corporate Responsibility in Eritrea's Mining Sector.
It identifies one mining scheme, the Bisha project – which Human Rights Watch says is majority-owned and operated by the small Canadian firm Nevsun Resources – as Eritrea's first and so far only operational mine. Since gold production started in 2011 it was said to have produced approximately $614m (£380m) worth of ore.
Human Rights Watch reports that other large projects led by Canadian, Australian and Chinese firms are in the pipeline and many exploration firms are exploring the various prospects.
It states: "Eritrea's government maintains a 'national service' programme that conscripts Eritreans into prolonged and indefinite terms of forced labour, generally under abusive conditions. It is through this forced labour programme that mining companies run the most direct risk of involvement in the Eritrean government's human rights violations.
"Human Rights Watch has documented how national service conscripts are regularly subjected to torture and other serious abuses, and how the government exacts revenge upon conscripts' families if they desert their posts. Many Eritreans have been forced to work as conscript labourers for over a decade."
The Eritrean state's human rights record was highlighted last year when the Guardian interviewed a soldier and member of its Olympic team who became the first Olympian from last summer's Games to go public on seeking asylum here.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: "The roundtable formed one part of the programme for the visit of the Eritrean delegation to the UK. The visit gave us the opportunity to discuss their role in the region and raise concerns over their human rights record at a high level."
A letter is being sent to the foreign secretary, William Hague, by Eritreans For Action, a group of exiled Eritreans in the UK, who warned that establishing a business relationship with the Eritrean regime would be "detrimental to the hopes and wishes of democracy-loving Eritreans".
"We ask what measures, guidelines and due diligence is the UK government undertaking when setting up business meetings, to ensure that funds from British [mining] companies are not being used [by the Eritrean government] to support terrorism and/or crimes against humanity," it says.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Eritrea mining investors risk violating human rights, warns report | Global development |

Caution counselled over use of state-owned contractors after workers complain of forced labour and poor living conditions
MDG : Bisha Mine in Eritrea
Bisha, Eritrea's only operational mine, produced $614m of ore in a year, but claims of human rights abuses are raising concern. Photograph: Nevsun Resources Ltd
Investors in Eritrea's mines risk complicity in gross human rightsviolations unless they take effective steps to ensure that no forced labour is used in connection with their operations, Human Rights Watch warned on Tuesday.
In a report examining the operations of Nevsun Resources, Human Rights Watch said it found that the small Canadian company was obliged to used a state-owned contractor, Segen Construction Company, to build some of the infrastructure around the mine site.
Segen has a long track record of allegedly deploying forced labour in connection with its projects, according to Human Rights Watch, which interviewed four Eritreans who worked at the Bisha project, Eritrea's first and so far only operational mine. It began gold production in 2011 and produced $614m worth of ore in its first year. The project is majority owned and operated by Nevsun Resources.
The Eritreans interviewed by Human Rights Watch worked at Bisha during its initial construction phase. Some said Segen deployed them as conscript labourers, describing "terrible living conditions and forced labour at paltry wages". One former conscript said he was arrested and imprisoned for several months after leaving the work site to attend a relative's funeral.
Under the "national service" programme, Eritreans are conscripted; most are sent to the military, but others are made to work for state-owned companies. Some of those companies are construction firms that the government pressures international companies to use as contractors, said the report.
"If mining companies are going to work in Eritrea, they need to make absolutely sure that their operations don't rely on forced labour," said Chris Albin-Lackey, business and human rights senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "If they can't prevent this, they shouldn't move forward at all."
The group said mining firms wanting to invest in Eritrea should refuse to work with any contractor implicated in the use of forced labour, and insist on the right to investigate any and all allegations of abuse connected to their operations.
Nevsun said it became aware of allegations that Segen might be employing conscripts in early 2009, within a few months of the start of mine construction by its subsidiary, Bisha Share Mining Company (BMSC).
Nevsun added: "Unfortunately, at the time, BMSC's national service discharge document inspection procedures did not apply to subcontractors. In response to the allegations BMSC acted quickly by immediately extending its procedures to include subcontractors and by obtaining a written guarantee from Segen that it would not use conscripts at Bisha."
Human Rights Watch, however, pointed out that Segen has refused Nevsun's requests to interview Segen employees to verify that they are working at Bisha voluntarily. Segen also refused to allow Nevsun to visit the site where its workers are housed to assess conditions.
Nevsun, which said it began providing food in 2010 to Segen's workers after receiving reports that they had deplorable living conditions and inadequate food, underlined the benefits of Bisha to Eritrea's economy, saying it has contributed more than $400m in cash remittances to the Eritrean government. In addition, the mine has contributed tens of millions of dollars to the economy through salaries, wages, benefits, local supply-chain purchases, and community assistance, and the mine did not displace any local communities.
There are 140 Segen employees at the mine, representing about 10% of the 1,400 Eritreans employed directly or indirectly at Bisha. The Segen employees will leave Bisha by the end of August, when their work is finished.
In recent years, Eritrea's largely untapped mineral wealth has provided a much needed boost to its economic prospects. One of the world's poorest countries, Eritrea ranks 177th out of 187 countries in the 2011 Human Development Index. The country is ruled by one of the most closed regimes.
"Investors in Eritrea's mining sector risk complicity in gross human rights violations unless they take effective steps to ensure that no national service conscript is used in connection with their operations," said Human Rights Watch.

Monday, January 7, 2013

President Calls on Eritrea to Release Prisoners

The President of Djibouti, Ismail Omar Guelleh, in his New Year address to the Nation has called once again for the release of the prisoners of war seized by Eritrea during Eritrea incursion into Djibouti when Eritrea attacked Djibouti in June 2008.
In his message, the President honored those who had died in the service of their country. Djibouti has repeatedly called for the release of the prisoners of war still suffering in the prisons of Eritrea, a call ignored by the Government of Eritrea. In his speech, President Guelleh also called for a quick and peaceful resolution of the dispute over Dumera on the border. There has been no progress in resolving this since the end of the fighting, despite the efforts of the Emir of Qatar to mediate between the two countries.