Eritrean diaspora stages protest in the Swedish capital

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

Add your reaction Share

Eritrea suffers new U.S. sanctions over human trafficking

Eritrea suffers new U.S. sanctions over human trafficking

Eritrea has been hit by new United States (U.S.) sanctions according to a White House statement. Under the new sanctions regime the U.S. said it was constraining Eritreans from engaging in educational or cultural exchange programs with the U.S.

Eritrea has long been on a U.S. sanctions list for failing to combat human trafficking. The new measure is a further squeeze on Asmara’s relations with Washington. North Korea, Russia and Syria have all been put into the same bracket.

Four other African countries were added to the sanctions list according to the White House. The sanctions are basically based on failure of the countries in the area of checking human trafficking.

READ MORE: Africa dominates U.S. list of worst human trafficking offenders

A statement issued on Saturday September 30, 2017; said the affected African countries are: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, South Sudan and Sudan.

Joining the African quartet are Iran and Venezuela – all the listed countries have been added to a list of countries subject to restrictions for the new fiscal year. The U.S. fiscal year kicked off on Sunday, October 1, 2017.

Under a 2000 U.S. law called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the United States does not provide non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance to any country that fails to comply with minimum standards for eliminating trafficking and is not making efforts to do so.

The latest round of sanctions comes barely weeks after Eritrea and other African countries were slapped with a visa restriction regime. The move was as part of punitive measures towards nations that refused to take back nationals scheduled for deportation from the U.S.

“As of September 13, the U.S. Embassy in Asmara, Eritrea has discontinued issuing B1, B2 , and B1/B2 visas to citizens, subjects, nationals, and residents of Eritrea, with limited exceptions, in accordance with Section 243(d) of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” the U.S. embassy in Asmara wrote on its Facebook wall.

Add your reaction Share

‘The Route is Shut’: Eritreans Trapped by Egypt’s Smuggling Crackdown

‘The Route is Shut’: Eritreans Trapped by Egypt’s Smuggling Crackdown

Since Egyptian authorities cracked down on people smuggling last year, the Eritrean population in Cairo has swelled. As the E.U. heaps praise on Egypt’s migration control measures, Eric Reidy examines their consequences for a vulnerable community.

Written by Eric Reidy Published on Aug. 1, 2017 Read time Approx. 5 minutes

Egypt accident migrants boat

Egyptian policemen and medics stand over the body of a migrant on the shore of the Egyptian port city of Rosetta on September 22, 2016, during a search operation after a boat carrying migrants capsized in the Mediterranean. AFP/MOHAMED EL-SHAHED

CAIRO – “I was planning to leave Egypt by the sea. I didn’t have any plan to stay,” says Dejen, a 30-year-old Eritrean refugee. He’s sitting in the bedroom of an apartment in the Ard El-Lewa district of Cairo with three friends. Small, battered suitcases and backpacks are scattered across the floor, and a bed against the wall is waiting to be put together.

“This year there is no way [to Europe]. The route is shut.”

Dejen and his friends are moving in, preparing for a longer stay in Egypt than any of them had anticipated. “This year there is no way [to Europe]. The route is shut,” Dejen says, with a tired sigh.

Since migration to Europe began to accelerate in 2013, Eritreans fleeing one of the most repressive governments in the world have been among the largest groups of people arriving in Europe. The vast majority departed from Libya. The route is rife with abuse. Kidnappings for ransom, abduction by Islamist militant groups, torture, rape, long periods of detention in dismal conditions and forced labor are common.

Starting in 2014, a growing number of Eritreans, aware of these dangers, began looking to Egypt as a safer alternative. Egypt has become an increasingly popular transit country for Eritrean refugees wanting to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Egypt has been a launching point for clandestine journeys across the Mediterranean at least since the mid-1990s. But it’s been overshadowed since 2011 by Libya, where the chaos of civil war has allowed the people-smuggling business to flourish, paving the way for more than half a million people to set out from its shores in the direction of Europe in the past six years.

In comparison, around 11,000 of the more than 180,000 people who made the journey to Italy last year set out from Egypt. Following a crackdown on clandestine migration by Egyptian authorities this year, that number has dropped to fewer than 1,000.

Eritreans who came to Egypt with no intention of staying are now stuck, and the community has more than doubled in size since the beginning of 2016. At around 8,000 people, Eritreans are now the fourth largest refugee group in Egypt, behind Syrians, Sudanese and Ethiopians. In many ways, their treatment in Egypt is better than in Sudan or Libya. But refugees here do not have the right to work and the Eritreans speak of regular verbal and physical harassment in the streets and in their homes.

Living in a place where they never intended to stay, these new and reluctant residents of Egypt are faced with a pressing question: What next?

Smuggling Crackdown

Last September, an estimated 300 people drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Alexandria, making it one of the biggest single tragedies in a year with a record-breaking 5,143 migrant and refugee deaths in the Mediterranean. The majority of the victims were Egyptians, and the incident galvanized support for a crackdown on people smuggling in Egypt.

In October, the Egyptian Parliament passed an anti-human smuggling law that laid out penalties for smugglers without criminalizing irregular migrants, which was celebrated by the international community. “We believe that the law will be a strong deterrent for smugglers who put the lives of thousands of Egyptians and non-Egyptians at risk on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean,” a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said at the time.

What followed was an increase in the number of people being arrested for attempting to illegally leave Egypt and a tightening of security measures along the coast, according to Hamed Adem, a member of the Eritrean Refugee Committee in Cairo. This year “there’s no more illegal migration from Egypt,” Adem said.

Some human rights organizations see the crackdown as a public relations move instead of a genuine attempt to protect vulnerable people. Egypt has come under harsh criticism for human rights abuses under the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “Egypt needs some cooperation and needs money right now,” Marie Martin, a program officer at EuroMed Rights, said. By cracking down on migrant boats, a major priority of the European Union, Egypt can win favor and support in the international community, she added. Last week, the E.U. heaped more praise on the law and pledged to further strengthen cooperation on migration.

For Dejen and his friends, the closure of the route from Egypt has left them in limbo. Like most Eritreans who try to make it to Europe, they fled to escape Eritrea’s system of indefinite national service. “Most people go to Libya, but because of the advice of my friends about safety, I decided to come to Egypt,” Dejen said.

‘If the Way is Open, I Will Go Immediately’

People who register with the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR receive residency in Egypt, which protects them from being deported if they are arrested trying to cross the sea and allows them to live in urban centers without the fear of being detained. This degree of security does not exist in Sudan or Libya.

Still, the situation is not easy. “It’s very difficult to stay here with the problems we face from Egyptian people,” Dejen says.

In January, a group of six Egyptian men broke into the apartment where he was living at the time with his friends. It was nighttime, and Dejen was helping two Eritrean girls and their brother fill out forms to apply for asylum with UNHCR. Dejen says the Egyptians tried to rape the girls, and he and his friends struggled to fight off the attackers. Dejen was stabbed in the head and his friend’s wrist was broken. It took two hours before they were able to force the Egyptians from the apartment. The girls had been groped, but not raped. Dejen and his friends filed a complaint with the police, but nothing ever came of it, Dejen says. He still sees some of the attackers on the street from time to time.

Stories like this are all too common, according to Adem, the Eritrean Refugee Committee member. “The main problem facing Eritreans in Egypt is security problems,” he said, adding that robbery, rape, assault and verbal harassment are daily fears for Eritreans in Cairo.

The economic situation is also difficult. Without the right to work, refugees either survive on money sent from relatives in Europe or North America or find jobs in the informal economy. Women often work as maids in houses, and men are employed in shops or factories. Wages are low, and without legal status, exploitation and abuse is common. “If [refugees] have a problem at work there’s nothing they can do because they don’t have the right to work,” Adem said.

Most Eritreans are desperate to leave. “If the way is open, I will go immediately,” says Mohamed, one of Dejen’s friends. “I can’t tolerate the harassment.”

But the only way out is through Libya, the route that the Eritreans came to Egypt to avoid. “Sometimes when I get very stressed out, I think of leaving to Libya,” Mohamed says.

He is not alone. “They have no option but to go to Libya,” Swedish-Eritrean migration activist Meron Estefanos says of the Eritreans stuck in Egypt. “There was no route from Cairo to Libya. Now everyone is leaving.”

“I try to consider the risks,” Mohamed says. “I try to be patient, but sometimes I think it would be worth the risk.”

Add your reaction Share

Eritrea: Anecdotes of indefinite anarchy A pastiche of daily encounters illuminating the disfigured Dadaist reality of present-day Eritrea.

Eritrea: Anecdotes of indefinite anarchy A pastiche of daily encounters illuminating the disfigured Dadaist reality of present-day Eritrea.

A pastiche of daily encounters illuminating the disfigured Dadaist reality of present-day Eritrea.

If available at all, facts about many crucial issues in Eritrea fail to capture the reality in the country. Reading the news about Eritrea, an outsider would not understand the extent and complexity of its transformation: from a country with a promising future into the personal fiefdom of President Isaias Afwerki and his clique at the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

A country preparing for dawn. We grow less intelligent.

Mahmoud Darwish, Under Siege 

A pastiche of daily encounters does a better job of illuminating the disfigured Dadaist reality of present-day Eritrea.

Pasta and oil instead of lectures

The Eritrean government closed the only university in Eritrea, the University of Asmara, in 2006, after the last class finished their studies and no new students were admitted. I had been working in the university as teaching assistant at the Department of Eritrean Languages and Literature since October 2004. After the closure, the staff and faculty continued to report to work for a year. We were still receiving our salaries, but we didn't have any classes to teach. We had no obligation to show up to "work". However, we continued to do so because our food rations were being distributed at the university campus. With the ruling party rationing the most basic food items, such as pasta, cooking oil and grain, and with no students to attend to, faculty found food rations the only worthwhile topic of conversation at the university. As shares were distributed, bits of pasta and leaks of cooking oil became common in faculty offices, along with professors hauling bags full of food items away from the campus.

When the military conquered education

After a year in limbo, the regime reassigned faculty and staff of the University of Asmara to under-equipped semi-military colleges that had been established about three years earlier. Students of these colleges were assigned into military divisions and they were forced to attend military training regularly, alongside their classes. Since then, the quality of education has been astutely deteriorating with the colleges in effect becoming refuges of indefinite limbo. My first responsibility as a faculty member in the new college was to supervise exams. While working as a proctor at the exams, I couldn't help noticing fresh faces wearing uniforms in the college lecture halls. When I asked a colleague about these people, he told me they were "military police, assigned to supervise".

Four pieces of bread

In 2010, when I was taking the public bus home in Asmara, I noticed Sara sitting at a bus stop heading in the other direction, obviously waiting for the bus. A few days later when we met, I asked her what had brought her to our neighbourhood that day. "You know, I lived in your neighbourhood before I moved to my current location, but our bread ration is still there," she explained. "The shopkeeper is kind enough to reserve my ration," she said. "So, I go to her shop and collect my ration every other day". 

OPINION: Remembering the Eritrean dream on Independence Day 

Normally bread rations are supposed to be collected daily from officially designated shops in the early hours of the morning. Sara had three children and she was entitled to receive a ration of four pieces of bread - three for her children and one for her - for each day. Knowing the hassles and delays of public transport in Eritrea, not to mention how overcrowded the buses are, I marvelled at her taking two buses to reach her destination.

How much time was she spending every other day to fetch these eight pieces of bread for a two-day ration? I asked her. She responded, "Sometimes, if I get fuel [contrabanded], I use my car, other times a bicycle, but the buses take me about an hour to go and another hour to return". Sara was in her later forties and had been the country representative of a United Nations office at one time.

The making of truth


WATCH: UN: Eritrea government commits crimes against humanity (2:05)

Sometime around 2010-11, the Ministry of Information came up with an unconventional but creative way of delivering "news". They would write a strongly worded editorial - the usual screeds denouncing the international community or highlighting the achievements of the nation in the face of continued hostilities. Two or three days later, they would publish a news article on the editorial and credit the aforementioned editorial as the source. When they did this for the first time, I had a good laugh about it with my friend Yonatan, who also studied journalism. "You know what?" said Yonatan, "They will continue to do this and soon we will normalise it". As he predicted, the practice of manufacturing news from editorials became an established and accepted tradition over the years, normalised by both journalists and the public.

Updating the list of the dead

Sometime in 2011, I stumbled onto Kibreab in Asmara, an amateur poet who also had written a film script. I knew him through a mutual friend, also a poet. Since 2001, we had met frequently at the offices of Zemen, one of the now-banned private newspapers to which I had contributed. "Are our friends still in prison, or are they released?" he asked me immediately after we greeted each other. Some of our mutual friends, including the poet who introduced us, had been taken into custody in 2009 when Radio Bana, the only educational radio station sponsored by Eritrea's Ministry of Education, was raided and later banned by the military. "Of course, they are still in prison; how would you miss it if they had been released?" I answered. "It is sad," he said, "So Amanuel Asrat and his group are also still in custody, I assume?" He was referring to journalists including Asrat who have been languishing incommunicado in detention since September 2001. I did not know how to respond and walked away thinking about the journalists who have never been heard of apart from sporadic news delivered by former prison guards who had fled the country. The news is scant, usually enough to update the list of the deceased detained journalists and other political prisoners.

The bus ride to Asmara

After University of Asmara was closed, my college, the College of Arts and Social Sciences was re-located to Adi-Kieh, about 110km south of the capital. As the town has barely any facilities, it became natural for all of the staff members and most students to come to Asmara for a weekend to relax. With extremely dilapidated roads, the handful of public buses operating (private cars are unimaginable), overcrowded with students and faculty, would take about half a day to reach Asmara (Google maps estimated the distance as 1:30 hours). The weekly scenes of chaos at the bus terminals started with long and disorderly queues at 4am. The bus conductors, in their teens, suddenly assumed the roles of the infamous military commanders in the country, insulting, pushing, and ruthlessly belittling the desperate passengers. Senior professors in their 60s were forced to stoop and beg for the compassion of the erratic teenage dictators.

IN PICTURES: The Eritreans fleeing to Ethiopia 

Two years after leaving the college and coming to the US, unsoundly expecting some dramatic changes might have had happened after my departure, I asked my colleague Yonatan if anything had improved. "Of course, there is major change," told me Yonatan as if he were waiting all the time to share his achievement, "I mastered how to bribe the bus conductors. I pay them 250-300 Nakfa and secure my seat without a hassle." The normal fare was 60 Nakfa.

Ministry employee by day, civilian guard by night


WATCH: New York protest held against human rights abuses in Eritrea (0:25)

When my friend Tesfai, who worked at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, travelled out of Eritrea for the first time on a work visit to China in 2014, I had a long phone conversation with him to catch up on what had been happening in the two years since I had left the country. One thing that had happened was that the government introduced a new law, requiring all citizens between the ages of 18 and 70 to carry arms and guard government buildings in the evenings. As it was nearly impossible to talk on the phone at ease with Tesfai while he was in Asmara, now free of the presumed tapping of every phone conversation adopted by the whole Eritrean populace, I asked Tesfai how he is coping with the new requirement. "I have a gun at home, but I am not regularly doing the evening duties of guarding," he said. "What would be the consequences?" I asked him. "They might imprison me for two or three months or even more, but I am ready for that," he replied.

Quitting can get you jailed

During a phone conversation, last week with a friend who works as a teacher in Asmara, he casually remarked that the currency note redemption of early 2016 had severely affected many people. According to the new policy, nationals cannot withdraw more than 5,000 nakfa at any given month from their own savings; the amount barely covers one month's rent for a two-bedroom house in the capital. My friend told me that he and other colleagues had stopped being paid for their second job. He explained that the government introduced a new policy, prohibiting anyone from being on more than one payroll at a time.

"I have not been paid in my second job since early 2016," he tells me. As there is no such private sector, the only employer in the country is also either the government or the ruling party.

READ MORE: Exiled Eritreans campaign for freedom of journalists 

"If you have not been paid for more than a year and now six months, why do you continue working there? Why not quit?" I ask bewildered.

"We continue working with the hope that they reconsider and collectively pay us all. But more than that many of us are afraid it will be considered public disobedience and seen as open confrontation to the government," he replied.

The general's new girlfriend

As a certain general became empowered by the president with indisputable authority, his girlfriend (he is married and has a family) also became very influential. "The current girlfriend is humble and is mature in comparison to her age (she is in her early 20s). In fact, she has helped many prisoners of conscience be released," tells me Teclai who had a small business in Asmara and had a rough time with the previous girlfriend of the general. "The other one was notorious. If you have any dispute or even slightly irritated her, she just calls the infamous military prison chiefs and they will come right away to round you up from the streets."

Such anecdotes have been the new normal in Eritrea for over a decade now. That is also one of the reasons why some of the international media outlets - if allowed access to the country after the routine rejections - cannot fully grasp the absurdity and steep descent into the abyss.

Abraham T Zere is a US-based Eritrean writer and journalist who is serving as the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile. Among others, his articles - that mainly deal with Eritrea's gross human rights abuses and lack of freedom of expression - have appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and the Index on Censorship Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @abraham_zere

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Eritrea  Human Rights  Africa

Add your reaction Share

AU calls for calm amid Djibouti-Eritrea border tensions

AU calls for calm amid Djibouti-Eritrea border tensions

African Union says it will send a 'fact-finding mission' to the countries as tensions between the neighbors mount.


Listen to this page using ReadSpeaker


Read more
Add your reaction Share

Remembering the Eritrean dream on Independence Day

Remembering the Eritrean dream on Independence Day

Abraham_T_Zere.jpgTwenty-six years ago today, Eritrea's 30-year war of independence against Ethiopia ended with Eritrean freedom fighters marching to the capital, Asmara. Unfortunately, it took less than a decade for the grand hopes and ideals that Eritreans initially had for the future of their country to evaporate into thin air.

The international media has limited access to the country and, as a result, their coverage of Eritrea is limited to a shallow narrative focusing on "indefinite military conscription" and "refugees".

But the Eritrean story is far more complicated than these one-dimentional labels. 

After independence the country gradually descended into a fiefdom, serving as a grand laboratory for the negligent and oppressive government experiments of President Isaias Afwerki and his clique. Over the past two and a half decades Eritrean authorities have been accused of a variety of abuses. These accusations culminated in a report by the the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea in 2016, which declared the Eritrean state guilty of "crimes against humanity".

As a result of short-sighted economic policies, the country has been mired in abject poverty. Citizens are left with two options - flee at any cost or stay and slowly rot in their homeland. In a country that is not even close to supporting itself on local commodities, importation of goods has been outlawed since 2003. The ruling party (PFDJ) and its organs are allowed to import and ration basic food items - they ration chewing gum at the party's stores and alcoholic drinks at bars.

There is no rule of law or constitutional underpinning in the country. The president long ago shelved the national constitution that was ratified in 1997 after a four-year drafting process. Yet, in his Independence Day address in 2014, he announced that another constitution would be drafted. This ended up being just another excuse to buy time and divert attention from the country's problems.

A prison state

Eritrea has devolved into a prison state where military commanders maintain underground prison centres to extort money from innocent citizens. More than 360 prison facilities operate in this small country with a population of fewer than five million people.

Apart from the extortionary prison centres, the other means of generating money is human trafficking, with some Eritreans paying as much as $6,000 to be smuggled out of the country.

IN PICTURES: The Eritreans fleeing to Ethiopia

This is a nation ranked last (No 180) eight years (2009-2016) in a row on the Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, and named the most censored country on earth by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

As they have done for many years, Eritrean authorities continue to ruthlessly restrict and punish both independent and state journalists. Denial of freedom also extends to religious practices, where all Protestant denominations of Christianity have been banned since 2002. State interference also extends to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is supposed to be permitted to operate in the country. The church's 3rd Patriarch, Abune Antonios, was ousted and placed under house arrest in defiance of Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in 2007.

Apart from the trivial exercise of democracy in schools (electing class monitors), free elections have never been permitted in Eritrea. From the smallest unit to the highest ministerial level, all officials are appointed, not elected.


Education in tatters

Although Eritrea boasts about expanding basic education and building schools, various factors effectively have turned the schools into ghost houses. Some schools operate with a single teacher who is expected to do all the teaching as well as covering administrative chores. Eritrea has been applauded for achieving some of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, yet most Eritreans who can afford it seek basic medications in neighbouring countries. All private clinics have been banned since 2010. Most government clinics and hospitals are regularly short of basic supplies, and patients are often asked to get intravenous drips and other medical supplies from private pharmacies.

Construction of new houses has been outlawed since 2005 despite acute shortages, and so is fishing in coastal areas where locals depend on it for their food and livelihood.

In a society that places a high value on education, the state wages a systematic war against education.

This started in 2001 when the regime ordered most teachers to work on national service salary, and the decline was exacerbated two years later when the government moved the final year of secondary school to a military training centre, Sawa, where students combine military training with regular studies. As another impediment to education, the only university in the country, the University of Asmara, was closed in 2006, replaced by underequipped, semi-military colleges.

With the systematic discouragement and prohibition of business, construction, private clinics and the university, much of the country's productive human resources and capital have fled. As a result, many of the remaining citizens, those with a small amount of capital, have started investing in farms that aren't reliant on imported goods. Yet, the state makes this difficult, too, by frequently fixing prices and confiscating privately owned tractors during the high season.

Apart from the trivial exercise of democracy in schools (electing class monitors), free elections have never been permitted in Eritrea. From the smallest unit to the highest ministerial level, all officials are appointed, not elected.

Recycling state propoganda

The national media ceaselessly recycle state propaganda. Print and online media have deteriorated into private photo albums of the president, while the national TV station, ERI-TV, is essentially a giant selfie-stick for the president.

Recently, hype has been generated about the booming mining sector in Eritrea, yet every day the country is being pushed closer to abject poverty. Eritrea's share of mining income and the way it is spent is closely controlled by the president and his close associates.

While every Eritrean state action since independence has disregarded the rule of law and worsened living conditions, the negative effect of these policies has intensified since 2012. In addition to the regular military conscription, the regime decreed a "popular army" programme that requires all civilians between the ages of 18 and 70 to be armed and available to perform free manual labour at a moment's notice.

These draconian policies were coupled with local currency redemption at the beginning of 2016. According to the new policy, Eritrean nationals can withdraw no more than 5,000 Nakfa (about the cost of a month's rent for a two-bedroom house in the capital) in a single month from their savings. This rule is in effect despite the fact that the nation's economy absolutely relies on cashflow.

READ MORE: Exiled Eritreans campaign for freedom of journalists

With the resulting severe lack of currency flow and other extreme restrictions, prices for most items have been skyrocketing. Yet the government, in an attempt to balance the market, forces local farmers in Eritrea to sell their products at fixed prices. For example, during the most recent Easter holiday, police were deployed to the marketplace to make sure consumable products such as tomato and onions were being sold at fixed prices.

While the opposition to the Eritrean government from the international community and the Eritrean diaspora has gradually been increasing, geological developments in the region have been strenghtening the regime's hand. At a high cost to local residents who have been pushed away from fishing and other jobs in the port of Assab, Eritrean authorities have leased that port to the United Arab Emirates for coalition forces to conduct their joint military operation against Yemen. Another island has been leased to Egypt to destabilise Ethiopia. Apart from President Afwerki and his group, nobody in Eritrea benefits from such dealings.

For the past three to four years, the president has been isolating himself and growing increasingly paranoid, depending more and more on his military and security forces. Afwerki has launched poorly planned and researched capital projects that drain material resources and manpower from the small nation. A blatant example of this is the many dam projects for which the whole nation is required to provide free labour and the president serves as site manager. He moved his office to the construction site and handles daily presidential tasks from his new location.

This is the exceedingly gloomy situation in which Eritrea found itself while celebrating its hard-won independence. Happy Independence Day, Eritrea … anyways.

Abraham T. Zere is a US-based Eritrean writer and journalist who is serving as the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile. Among others his articles - that mainly deal with Eritrea’s gross human rights abuses and lack of freedom of expression - have appeared on The Guardian, The Independent and the Index on Censorship Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @abraham_zere

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


Add your reaction Share

UN demands release of Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak jailed since 2001
Add your reaction Share

How to solve impunity when journalists are targeted

How to solve impunity when journalists are targeted

Those beyond the reach of attacking governments or groups must stand up for persecuted journalists and exert pressure.


Vanessa Berhe, centre, calls on the government to reveal the fate of dissidents who were detained 15 years ago and have been held incommunicado without trial [AFP]

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Eritrea: British firms bankrolling a brutal regime

Eritrea: British firms bankrolling a brutal regime

n the pursuit of profit British firms are turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and reinforcing a ruthless dictatorship.

The Eritrean people live in fear. Eritrea is one of the most repressive states in the world: no elections since 1993; a crackdown on press freedom; forced labour; arbitrary arrest and detention without trial; indefinite compulsory military conscription; and sexual violence against women and girls.

The list goes on.

Yet these shocking human rights violations mean nothing to big business, whose only purpose is to exploit Eritrea’s wealth of natural resources. Right now in Eritrea, mining companies from around the world are bankrolling a brutal regime and are complicit in its forced labour system, whether through mining taxes paid the state or investments made in mining construction projects.


Read more
Add your reaction Share

Confessions of an Eritrean Army Deserter

Confessions of an Eritrean Army Deserter

Teklit_Michael.pngEritrean 'army deserters' have not deserted their people, but the dictatorial regime who persecuted them, and must be granted asylum Eritrean army deserters are denied refugee status by the Israeli government. The question whether desertion from national service in Eritrea is in itself a valid reason for refugee status is pending the appeals tribunal ruling, and that is after the Population and Immigration authority already rejected thousands of Eritreans asylum requests.

These rejections show a fundamental lack of understanding of army service in Eritrea, and how it operates to oppress the people rather than to serve and protect.

Teklit Michael is an Eritrean asylum seeker in Israel and community outreach coordinator at the Eritrean Women’s Community Center.

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Take Action

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


Sign up


Spread the word

Top Leaders

Top 50 Most Earned Points (All time)

+6166pt earned points
+5185pt earned points
+5064pt earned points
+4567pt earned points
+3265pt earned points
+2960pt earned points
+1514pt earned points
+1495pt earned points
+720pt earned points
+702pt earned points
+515pt earned points
+495pt earned points
+480pt earned points
+466pt earned points
+395pt earned points
+377pt earned points
+365pt earned points
+333pt earned points
+285pt earned points
+280pt earned points
+275pt earned points
+259pt earned points
+245pt earned points
+233pt earned points
+230pt earned points
+215pt earned points
+210pt earned points
+200pt earned points
+188pt earned points
+185pt earned points
+170pt earned points
+170pt earned points
+155pt earned points
+152pt earned points
+146pt earned points
+145pt earned points
+145pt earned points
+135pt earned points
+130pt earned points
+125pt earned points
+125pt earned points
+120pt earned points
+120pt earned points
+120pt earned points
+112pt earned points
+112pt earned points
+110pt earned points
+110pt earned points
+110pt earned points
+110pt earned points

Upcoming Events