Eritrean diaspora stages protest in the Swedish capital

Stockholm, Sweden - Hundreds of Eritreans gathered outside the embassy of the east African nation in the Swedish capital Stockholm on Friday to protest against the recent arrest of teachers and the director of an Islamic school.

The arrest of Hajji Musa Mohammednur, president of the board of the Al Diaa Islamic School, and several other teachers triggered a rare protest in the capital Asmara on October 31.

Thousands marched towards the president's office, demanding the release of Mohammednur and the other detainees.

Mohammednur has opposed the government's school nationalisation policy that among other strictures bans the use of hijab, a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion, and religious education in the school based in Asmara. The policy also affects Christian schools.

The arrest of Mohammednur "was the spark which unleashed the people's anger" in Eritrea and among the diaspora, Zein Shawkai, a political dissident who participated in the protest, told Al Jazeera.

The protest marked a first in Eritrea since the country gained independence in 1991 from Ethiopia following a 30-year war. The Eritrean state forbids any associations and gatherings.

The protesters in Stockholm included young and old Eritreans, Muslim and Christian, and a few Syrians who came to express solidarity. They chanted anti-government slogans demanding the removal of Eritrean President Isayas Afowerki: "Down, down Isayas" and "The people want to get rid of the regime".

'Interference in people's personal choices'

They held posters of the imprisoned Mohammednur and various Eritrean prisoners of conscience.

The atmosphere turned from serious to joyous as speeches were mixed with patriotic songs.

Protesters came from across Sweden, and buses were organised to ensure people made it to the rally outside the embassy in the suburb of Lidingo.

Eritreans protested in Stockholm [Fatma Naib/Al Jazeera]

Despite the freezing cold, people stood for over three hours under the watchful eyes of the police who were present to ensure no clashes would happen in case government supporters showed up.

Nagash Osman, one of the protest organisers, thinks interfering with people's religious beliefs proved to be the final straw for many in Eritrea and that is what led to the protests.

"They are trying to force their own rules on the people and the educational system," he said.

"In telling people not to wear the cross or the hijab they are interfering in people's personal choices and beliefs."

He added that the diaspora has been staging anti-government protests for the last 25 years, but what is new is increased international attention and the fact that demonstrations actually happened inside the country.

Shawkai explained that international media coverage of Eritrea increased after the United Nations Human Rights Council set up an inquiry commission in June 2014 to investigate rights abuses in Eritrea.

The report concluded that Eritrea committed widespread abuses that could amount to crimes against humanity.

'We do not want to be forgotten'

"We want to keep Eritrea in the news, we don't want to be forgotten again. We want the Eritrean story to stay alive," Shawkai said.

According to Shawkai, the Eritrean regime has stepped up its propaganda and the spreading of fabricated news recently, such as claims that the protests are staged by the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is the sign of an end to all the silence and fear that have haunted our people for decades

Semhar Selassie, a protester

"This is false. Muslims and Christians are standing side by side inside and outside Eritrea protesting against the regime. There is no difference between Muslim and Christian Eritreans when it comes to national identity and solidarity," said the event organiser Osman.

After the protest in Asmara, Minister of Information Yemane Gebremeskel, tweeted "Small demonstration by one school in Asmara dispersed without any casualty, hardly breaking news".

Defending basic human rights

On November 4, an opinion piece on the official organs of the Ministry of Information claimed that the demonstrators were "a group of teenagers" chanting "Allahu Akbar".

Many of the people Al Jazeera talked to mentioned the "media blackout" from inside the country.

"Just give us a chance to tell our side of the story," Shawkai said.

Semhar Selassie, 30, a teacher, also stressed the importance of letting non-state-affiliated voices be heard in the coverage of Eritrea.

"What happened is far from having religious or sectarian motives. It is as simple as a school's basic rights being violated and unlike the previous 26 years, people didn't keep silent about a violation of their rights. People stood up to defend their basic human rights and the regime couldn't just digest this fact."

Selassie said that by spreading propaganda, which could divide the people, the government is trying to divert the attention of people from the real issue.

Despite the government crackdown there was a sense of hope within the diverse crowd in Stockholm.

"What happened in Akhria, Asmara, on October 31 is the beginning of what will have to come. It is the sign of an end to all the silence and fear that have haunted our people for decades," she said.

"The Eritrean matter is far from over, actually its active stage is just beginning."

SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Take Action

Eritrean Satellite Television is an international non-profit organization. Please support us by:

Donate

Sign up

Volunteer

Spread the word

Top Leaders

Top 50 Most Earned Points (All time)

Yosief Meharena 1
+6226pt earned points
Zaid Bein 2
+5205pt earned points
efrem tesfay 3
+5024pt earned points
Andebrhan Ekube 4
+4567pt earned points
Hamer Diglel 5
+3295pt earned points
Efrem Tesfahiwet 6
+2960pt earned points
Yemane Ghebrekidan 7
+1514pt earned points
Solomon Ghebrewold 8
+1495pt earned points
Khalieb Abraham 9
+720pt earned points
rezene yowhans 10
+702pt earned points
Anonymous 11
+515pt earned points
Peter Habte 12
+495pt earned points
Tewelde Kidane 13
+480pt earned points
Abdu Kelifa 14
+466pt earned points
Amanuel Mebrahtu 15
+402pt earned points
Abeba Abraha 16
+395pt earned points
stifanos michael 17
+377pt earned points
Haile Tensae 18
+333pt earned points
Teclemariam Ghebregergis 19
+285pt earned points
Abdu Ali 20
+280pt earned points
Robi91 Smerr1 21
+275pt earned points
EriSat Tv 22
+264pt earned points
Zery Bokre 23
+245pt earned points
Biniam Biniam Garmskal 24
+233pt earned points
Mesfin Kidane 25
+230pt earned points
Asefaw Ghebrekidan 26
+215pt earned points
Shaban Mohammed 27
+210pt earned points
Kassahun Berhane 28
+210pt earned points
Tesheme Temesgen 29
+200pt earned points
Selam Fithat selam fithat 30
+188pt earned points
asgedet tesfa yohannes 31
+185pt earned points
amanuel mebrahtu 32
+171pt earned points
yacob sibhat 33
+170pt earned points
abdu Ahmed 34
+170pt earned points
tekle teklzghi 35
+155pt earned points
Ardel_Gash Y. Negash 36
+152pt earned points
Eyassu Tesfamariam 37
+145pt earned points
Ali Baba Ali Baba 38
+145pt earned points
okubay hagos 39
+135pt earned points
selam fithat selam fithat 40
+130pt earned points
Habte Berhe 41
+125pt earned points
yehdego beyene 42
+125pt earned points
Teame Tekie 43
+120pt earned points
Gebrihiwet Gebremedhin 44
+120pt earned points
Tesfay Beraki 45
+120pt earned points
Mulalem Gerezgiher 46
+112pt earned points
Khaled Abdu 47
+112pt earned points
Habtom Kidane 48
+110pt earned points
Tekeste Tzeggai 49
+110pt earned points
fessehai hagos 50
+110pt earned points

Upcoming Events