Eritrea: two more journalists arrested

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Sources for Radio Erena in Asmara have confirmed the arrest of two journalists in the past few days.

The two journalists have been working for the Ministry of Information Tigrinya and Arabic newspapers.

One is Abdulghadir Ahmed the cultural editor of Hadas Eritrea and the other is Mohamednur Ahmed the chief editor of Arabic paper Eritrea al Haditha.

Mr. Abdulghadir is the nephew of the famous Ustaz Beshir who served as a managing director of Diya’a Islamic School in Akhria, Abdulghadir himself taught in the school before joining the Ministry of Information and he is currently a member of the parents’ council of the school.

Mr. Mohamednur Ahmed has been a former fighter and longtime member of staff of the Arabic Eritrea AL Haditha paper where became editor in chief.


by Martin Plaut

The Eritrean government is accusing Qatar of increasing tension along the Eritrea- Sudan border by sending aircraft to Sudan and backing dissidents in the area. [see below]

This follows the Sudanese deployment of thousands of troops in Kassala State in eastern Sudan.

A previous article provided some background to the story. Sudan has not provided an explanation for what has taken place.

Source: Eritrea Ministry of Information

As it will be recalled,the fabricated news of “the deployment of Egyptian troops in Sawa”, and the subsequent closure of the border by Sudan that “this event ostensibly triggered” was recycled and amplified with high drama recently.   But the story did not end there.  In these times where past events fast evade memory, it may be useful to reiterate the fundamental truths occasionally so that the public is not confused. In this respect:

•    In early January, the State of Qatar gave the Sudanese Defence Forces three Mig jet aircrafts that were subsequently deployed in Kassala.  This was purportedly done to “thwart an attack from Eritrea that would be unleashed with the support of the United Arab Emirates”   The pilots for the three Mig fighter planes being two Qataris and an Ethiopian.  The Sudanese Security and Intelligence apparatus is in charge of the operations, including determining specific missions as well as overall administration.

•    In early February, the followers (the full list is available) of the radical Islamic Cleric, Mohammed Jumma, opened an office, under extreme secrecy, in a secluded area to organize political and military activities as well as to train their members.  Funding of their activities is provided by the Embassy of Qatar in Khartoum.  Training and other logistical functions are managed by the Sudanese Security and Intelligence Service.

•    At the beginning of March, a delegation of Qatari military officers, led by the Ambassador of Qatar in Khartoum, Rashid Bin Abdurahman Alnueimi, paid a visit to the “Joint Sudanese-Ethiopian Defense Unit”, to inspect its operations and gauge the security situation in the Kassala area.   This outfit was recently established by the Sudanese and Ethiopian Armed Forces with the funding from Qatar.
The question is why does Qatar involve itself in such senseless intricacies?

Ministry of Information
22 March 2018


by Martin Plaut

In January this year Sudanese troops were sent to man the country’s border with Eritrea.

The border was sealed: trade between the neighbouring states ceased.

This has caused real hardship for many on both sides of the border - but particularly in Eritrea, which relies on imports from Sudan.

So what is behind these dramatic events?

Sudan Vice PresThe origins of the dispute can be traced back to a visit to Eritrea by the Sudanese First Vice - President and National Prime Minister, Lt. Gen. Bakri Hassan Salih in December last year.

The official Sudanese statement said the two sides had "discussed progress of the bilateral relations between two countries and issues of mutual concern.”

But Sudanese sources suggest the discussions were far more dramatic. Sudan has been drifting away from its traditional alliance with Egypt, and closer to Ethiopia.

Khartoum has sided with Addis Ababa rather than Cairo over Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance dam on the Nile.

At the same time relations between Eritrea and Egypt have been warming. During General Salih’s visit to Asmara, President Isaias Afwerki suggested that the time was ripe for the General to replace President Omar al Bashir as Sudanese head of state.

Apparently speaking with the authority of Cairo, President Isaias said that such a move would be supported by both Eritrea and Egypt.

When General Salih returned to Khartoum the news was received with consternation.

Sudanese troops were rushed to the Eritrean border and the border sealed.

media A mosque in Nakfa, in northern Eritrea, April 2005. Photo: AFP/Nicolas Germain

Eritrean authorities have arrested a number of people attending the funeral of an Islamic school director who died in custody, a UN special rapporteur has said. Haji Musa Mohamednur was arrested in October 2017 after resisting orders from the government to enforce a ban on the Muslim veil and stop religious teachings, according to the human rights expert.


“He's a well-known person in Eritrea. Many people were attending the funeral and there's some very young ones, a 13-year-old boy, among those arrested,” Sheila Keetharuth, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, told RFI.

“This is the second wave of arrests, there were arrests previously, sometime at the end of October last year,” said Keetharuth. “These arrests were in the context of a protest when the elder, who passed on, was arrested together with other members of the school committee.”

Musa had ignored orders from the government to ban Muslim girls from wearing a veil to school, stop religious teachings and introduce mixed classes, a statement from the rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council said.

She said that more than 100 people were arrested in Asmara’s Akriya neighbourhood alongside Musa during a protest against the restrictions against Al Diaa private secondary school. Eritrean security forces wielded truncheons and fired gunshots in the air, she added.


“The right to religious belief is something that is very much undermined and curtailed in Eritrea,” said Keetharuth, speaking by telephone from Geneva. “There's some very specific violations that have happened including detention, arrest and loss of life.”

“The pattern of arrests, detention without trial, etc is the modus operandi of the Eritrean government - it has been documented and recorded many times previously,” the rapporteur said, saying that other schools have been closed over recent months.

Being a secular state should not mean that freedom of religion should be curtailed, said Keetharuth. “Can they deny the fact that someone died in custody? An elderly gentleman, who was a respected elder,” she said.

“Spurious allegations”

“Eritrea is a secular state and exclusionist religious teachings are not allowed or part of the national curriculum,” Yemane Meskel, Eritrea’s information minister, told RFI, describing the UN rapporteur’s comments as “spurious allegations”.

“Religious institutions – Christian or Muslim, etc - can run religious teachings,” said Meskel. “But public schools are open to all citizens without discrimination,” he added.

“The school in question was in breach of these regulations,” said the information minister, saying that the Eritrean embassy had made its objections to these allegations known to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Keetharuth is “not a neutral expert”, according to Meskel, saying that she had an “agenda of regime change”.


FILE PHOTO: A old Fiat car drives along a street in Eritrea's capital Asmara, February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/File PhotoReuters

March 14, 2018, at 12:53 p.m.

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Eritrean authorities detained hundreds of perceived opponents this month after a school director who defied government orders died in custody, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Most of those arrested were males and some were as young as 13, Sheila B. Keetharuth, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur for human rights in Eritrea told a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

The leaders of the country in the Horn of Africa should be tried for crimes against humanity including torture, rape, murder and enslaving hundreds of thousands of people, a U.N. investigation set up by the Council said in 2016.

President Isaias Afwerki has led Eritrea since independence from Ethiopia in 1991 and his government operates a policy of compulsory military service that thousands each month flee the country to escape, according the United Nations.

There was no immediate comment from the government on Wednesday. In 2016, the government rejected the allegations and said they were an attempt to harass the country.

This month's arrests followed the death in custody of Haji Musa Mohamednur, 93, who was a director of a private Islamic school in the capital Asmara and a respected elder, according to a U.N. statement.

He and other members of the school's administration were arrested last October for defying government orders including enforcing a ban on the veil and stopping religious teachings.

"Reports reaching me ... point to the arrest of hundreds of people, mainly males, some of them children as young as 13 years, after the burial of Haji Musa," the statement quoted Keetharuth as saying.

The statement gave no details of the circumstances of Musa's death this month. In October, there was a similar wave of detentions when law enforcement officers violently broke up a crowd and arrested over 100 people including students, she said.

"The indiscriminate mass arrests in October 2017 and during the past week were carried out to quell any kind of protest or resistance," she said.

(Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)



On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Eritrean women residing in 10 different countries in Europe convened on 8-10th of March in The Hague, the Netherlands for a march from Central Station to the International Criminal Court (ICC) under the banner of “Respect Human Rights in Eritrea”, followed by a two day conference of historical importance and magnitude discussing the current situation of Eritrea in general, and in particular situation of women at home, along migration routes and in the diaspora.

The March and conference celebrated and reflected Eritrea’s diversity with representatives from several women’s organisations that included the youth, veteran freedom fighters, professionals and activists. Some of the accomplishments of the event were the following:

  • A march against the gross human rights abuses in Eritrea in general and in particular itsimpact on Eritreanwomen and called for a constitutional governance and rule of law in Eritrea;
  • An appeal addressed to the International Criminal Court ( ICC) calling to hold the Eritrean regime accountable for committing gross human rights violations, as reported by the UN Human Rights council;
  • A two-day conference primarily discussing issues on how to empower women so that they effectively contribute their due share for a better outcome, by enhancing their role in the on-going struggle for political, social & economical change in Eritrea to play role in re-establishing peace, stability and the rule of law; and
  • Appointed a coordinating committee to overlook and strengthen thecollaborativework locally as well as across the region, enhance participation and raise capacity of women.

The Conference provided an opportunity for participants to know one another and to exchange experiences and social challenges that women face in Eritrea and refugee camps including all forms of gender based violence.

Concerned with the ever-worsening vulnerable situation of the Eritrean people, the Conference dedicated substantial time for discussions on the deteriorating state of the nation and concluded by underlining the fact that all opposition groups andthe women’s organisations have to come together to campaign and bring about a lasting solution to the current dire situation in Eritrea. 

The conference has strengthened Eritrean women’s solidarity in Europe and across the globe.

Finally, we would like to thank all organisations and individuals who supported us financially and morally including all platforms of Eritrean media in the diaspora. Your assistance has enabled us to take our initiative further to the next level.

#PressForFreedom    #PressForJustice   #PressForProgress

Eritrean Women for Justice


The death of a respected elder while in jail has prompted an outpouring of grief and anger on the streets of Asmara.

Screenshot from a video of the recent protest in Asmara, Eritrea.

Screenshot from a video of the recent protest in Asmara, Eritrea.

Last week, the respected elder Hajji Musa Mohammednur inspired aggrieved crowds in Eritrea‘s capital and shook the confidence of the regime. This was the second, and last, time he will have done so in the past few months.

This first occasion was when the well-known Eritrean figure was arrested last October. The 93-year-old had recently criticised a government decree to nationalise Al Diaa Islamic School, whose board he chaired. His detention was one of the triggers that prompted hundreds to take to Asmara’s streets in an uncommon show of defiance a few days later, leading to a brutal crackdown.

Speaking to parents and teachers before his arrest, Mohammednur had said he was prepared to sacrifice his life in resisting the state’s plan. The second time he stirred people to mobilise was last week when he did just that.

Mohammednur’s condition deteriorated during the months of his incarceration. In December, his poor health reportedly prompted the office of President Isaias Afwerki to instruct that he be released and put under house arrest. The nonagenarian refused to leave prison unless those arrested along with him were also let out. “You can carry my dead body out of here, but I am not leaving alone,” he is reported to have said. He died a few months later.

When family members went to collect Mohammednur’s body and bring it to the mosque for prayer, witnesses say they were joined by thousands more who wanted to pay their respects. On 3 March, the community leader’s funeral was held. The procession quickly escalated into an angry demonstration. Sources say some people threw stones at the police, who opened fire in an attempt to disperse the crowds as defiant youth carried the coffin through the streets. There have not been reports of casualties, but residents of the capital claim warning shots could be heard until late in the evening.

Witnesses say Asmara has been tense in the days since. In one of the world’s most repressive countries, they claim that fully-equipped anti-mob police have been deployed and that there have been several arrests. An opposition news-site suggests close to a thousand people have been rounded up. Sources within the police forces say stations are on emergency alert.

The death of a respected elder

Mohammednur was a widely-recognised individual in Eritrea. He was a key figure in organising the 1960s pro-independence student demonstrations in which Afwerki participated, and he was once arrested for his active role in Eritrea’s armed struggle.

His younger brother, Taha Mohammednur, was a co-founder of the Eritrea Liberation Front (ELF), the rebel group that started the war of independence. The current ruling party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), originated as a splinter of the ELF. Taha also died in custody, in 2008. He had served in several senior government posts after Eritrea’s liberation before he was arrested in 2005 alongside several other prominent figures on unspecified charges.

The outpouring of grief and anger following Mohammednur’s death last week can partly be explained by his influence and reputation. The elder’s decades-long service and dedication to his community and country earned him a deep respect. It was for this that he was made president of Al Diaa Islamic School despite his advanced years.

Sometimes when prominent individuals have been arbitrarily arrested in Eritrea, they have been quietly dismissed as possible accomplices or quickly forgotten by the wider community. But this was not the case with Mohammednur. After his detention, sheikhs at Al Khulafa Al Rashiudin, Asmara’s biggest mosque, reportedly took the bold step of using their Friday sermons to urge adherents to stand by him. Sources say that since the protest in October, most of the capital’s mosques have been subjected to tight security. It is even believed President Afwerki himself followed Mohammednur’s case closely and was personally behind the order of the prisoner’s release in December.

Security forces also seemed well aware of the possible flare up the elder’s death might cause. They allegedly delayed the release of his body for a day in order to avoid it coinciding with Friday prayers, when which large numbers of people gather. However, that did not stop mourners mobilising a day later for Mohammednur’s funeral.

A sign of things to come?

That large demonstration of popular frustration was one more sign that the government’s faith in the power of the gun to maintain control and keep the population silent is increasingly being challenged today.

The police on the streets of Asmara are said to be nervous. The same may well be true of officials in the President’s Office following another public expression of dissent in a country where the price of expressing dissent is high. In Eritrea, the free press has been stifled and thousands of political prisoners languish in appalling conditions.

On the one hand, Afwerki’s government may be quietly relieved by the passing of Mohammednur despite the disturbances it inspired. His death means authorities longer have to deal with a man who commanded wide respect, whose age-old credentials as an Eritrean patriot were tough to question, and whose recent open defiance was causing it trouble.

However, on the other hand, the incarceration, maltreatment and ultimate death of the admired nonagenarian at the hands of the regime may mark another step in its slow unravelling. In the eyes of some of Eritrea’s citizens, Mohammednur’s sad demise may only further confirm the government’s moral bankruptcy as they grow increasingly tired of, and increasingly bold in their resistance to, Afwerki’s almost 27-year rule.



Italy Sea Arrivals Dashboard (January 2018)

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Published on 31 Jan 2018


Between 1 and 31 January 2018, 4,189 persons arrived in Italy by sea. This is a modest decrease of 6% if compared to sea arrivals in the same period last year (4,467). In recent years, monthly arrivals were comparatively lower during the winter, due to less favorable weather and sea conditions.

Nationality of arrivals

In January 2018, 28% of sea arrivals were Eritreans, followed by Tunisians (15%), Pakistanis (7%), Nigerians (5%), Libyans (5%), Ivoirians (4%), Senegalese (4%), Algerians (3%), Guineans (3%), and Sudanese (3%). While the numbers of persons originating from Nigeria and western African countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal) are significantly lower than in January 2017, sea arrivals from Eritrea, Tunisia, Pakistan, Libya, Algeria, and Sudan have considerably increased compared to the same period last year. Notably, almost 1,200 Eritreans and over 600 Tunisians reached Italian shores in January 2018, compared to less than 20, respectively, in January 2017. Also, sea arrivals from Pakistan were over 270 in January 2018, compared to less than 10 in January 2017. Similarly, over 200 Libyans were registered at landing points in January 2018, while 25 had arrived by sea in the same period last year.



Asylum seekers and activists tell Al Jazeera how government-linked translators have infiltrated the immigration system.

2 hours ago
Italy received around 59,000 Eritreans between 2015 and 2016 [Courtesy: Meron Estefanos]
Italy received around 59,000 Eritreans between 2015 and 2016 [Courtesy: Meron Estefanos]

Rome, Italy - It was a warm Mediterranean day in October 2013 when Meron Estefanos got the news.

A boat had sunk off the Italian island of Lampedusa and several hundred refugees had drowned. In the end, the death toll would rise to 360.

Most on board were Eritrean.

Estefanos, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist and activist, and Father Mussie Zerai, a Catholic priest, both well-known refugee advocates, rushed to Palermo central police station in Sicily.

There, they were told Italian authorities would help them identify the living and dead for the refugees' families back home.


But when they entered the building, they were shocked to find it filled with representatives of the Eritrean government.

"These people fled from that government, and there they are sitting there," Estefanos tells Al Jazeera.

"People that we know, European leaders of Eritrean-affiliated organisations, were sitting at the [police headquarters] and registering people's names."

The pair complained, and the representatives were eventually removed.

You are asking for protection from the government and you find somebody who is translating your story ... and you know that he is government himself. You understand how frightening is this?

Siid Negash, Coordinamento Eritrea Democratica spokesperson

But five years on, Eritreans and activists say that President Isaias Afewerki's government has extended its tentacles into Europe's immigration services.

Simon Rezene, an interpreter and spokesperson for the East African Refugees group, estimates that more than half of the interpreters working with Italy's immigration services are hired by the Eritrean government.

Estefanos puts that figure at 80 percent, across Europe.

Human rights groups often compare the level of freedom in Eritrea to that of North Korea; both governments conscript citizens into indefinite military service and arbitrarily imprison and execute opponents.

"When you arrive, you are asking for asylum," Siid Negash, a spokesman for the Coordinamento Eritrea Democratica NGO, tells Al Jazeera.

"You are asking for protection from the government and you find somebody who is translating your story, everything you know, everything that you have to say about the government, and you know that he is government himself. You understand how frightening is this?"

Interpreters are responsible for communicating refugees' testimonies at Italian asylum hearings and at relocation interviews for transfer within the EU.

Relocation interviews are overseen by an EU agency, the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), and it is here that some Eritrean asylum seekers in Italy say they have experienced intimidation, threats against their family members in Eritrea, and mistranslation of their testimonies.

When translating, these interpreters leave out accounts of experiences such as torture, so that asylum seekers are awarded a lesser degree of refugee protection. This gives the Eritrean embassy greater control over their lives.

The Eritrean embassy in Rome refused Al Jazeera's request for comment.

'The only choice is silence'

Tesfahewet is a 40-year-old refugee in Sweden who escaped Eritrea in 2015 after 19 years of military service.

He says his suspicions about interpreters at his first two relocation interviews in Italy were confirmed when he researched the transcripts online and found that the translators had made statements in support of the government.

You maybe make a risk for your family inside Eritrea. The only choice is silence.

Tesfahewet, Eritrean asylum seeker

At the time of the interviews, he followed his instincts and kept quiet, revealing as little information as possible.

Later, after making informal enquiries, he was put in touch with an interpreter who local activists said was trustworthy.

It was then that he gave his full testimony.

If you tell your story to an interpreter whose loyalties are unknown, "you maybe make a risk for your family inside Eritrea", he says. "The only choice is silence."

Campaigners say government-linked interpreters do little to hide their alliances, often posting photographs online of themselves attending European conferences organised by the youth branch of the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice party, or YPFDJ, and organising counter-protests when diaspora groups demonstrate against the Eritrean government.

Activists have reported the issue several times to Italian authorities, EASO, and NGOs, but their complaints have been ignored.

Most organisations do not employ interpreters directly but subcontract the work out to cooperatives such as the Interpreters and Translators Cooperative (ITC) in Rome.

This, campaigners say, makes it easy to pass the buck when it comes to vetting candidates.

In May 2016, Father Zerai and a colleague say they met with the Italian Interior Ministry's chief of staff, Mario Morcone, to highlight the problem and deliver a list of reliable interpreters.

But no changes were made and two follow-up emails in October 2016 went unanswered.

Morcone's office did not respond to Al Jazeera's repeated requests for comment.

In a September 2017 meeting in Rome with EASO, Eritreans raised the issue of the agency's alleged use of government-linked interpreters, according to Rezene, the interpreter and activist.

At the agency's instruction, Rezene followed up by email shortly after, but by the start of 2018, he still had not received a response.

EASO told Al Jazeera that one interpreter subsequently resigned following an investigation, but added that this was not necessarily proof of the allegations.

The Interpreters and Translators Cooperative company told Al Jazeera that its contractors sign a code of conduct requiring them to declare conflicts of interest and agree to interpret faithfully.

Its interpreters have been cleared by the Italian police, ITC said.

EASO has asked ITC to "investigate the matter in order to ensure that there are absolutely no violations of any rights", the agency said.

Europe-wide issue?

The government's network of interpreters is not confined to Italy, but is active across Europe, according to Father Zerai.

In 2016, it was reported that interpreters allied with the Eritrean government had infiltrated Germany's immigration services in Germany - an allegation German authorities denied.

In 2015, Dutch immigration services were forced to reform after University of Tilburg international relations professor Mirjam van Reisen said in a radio interview that they employed two siblings of YPFDJ leader Meseret Bahlbi as interpreters.

Bahlbi sued the professor for defamation, but she won the 2016 court case and 2017 appeal.

In January of this year, the Netherlands expelled its top Eritrean diplomat for repeatedly breaking the country's laws by extorting an illegal two percent diaspora tax from refugees.

Father Zerai says translators hold great responsibility for the future of asylum seekers [Elaine Allaby/Al Jazeera]

But Italy, as the gateway to Europe for increasing numbers of African asylum seekers and recipient of more than 59,000 Eritreans between 2015 and 2016 according to Ministry of Interior records, is in a conflicted position.

While Eritrea is widely regarded as a pariah state, in recent years both Italy and the EU have made concessions to the government in an effort to reduce mass emigration to Europe and keep anti-immigrant factions at bay.

In 2014, Lapo Pistelli, who was then deputy foreign minister, dismayed Eritrean advocacy groups by travelling to the country's capital of Asmara to meet with President Afewerki in a stated bid to improve bilateral relations.

In late 2015, the EU approved a 200m-euro aid package to Eritrea on the basis that the government would limit its compulsory military service to 18 months and pay conscripts a living wage - conditions Aweferki is said to have completely ignored.

If you are a translator, you have in your hand the life of that person. We can't joke with the life of the people.

Father Zerai, priest and activist for refugees

"All Western democracy is facing a huge crisis," says Martin Plaut, former BBC Africa editor and author of Understanding Eritrea.

"They know perfectly well that it's an utterly repressive regime. But you know, how important is all this information against the rise of the populist right, which is going to kick you out of office?" he told Al Jazeera.

Against this background, Eritrean refugees in Europe are worried that their basic safety has been de-prioritised and the government has effectively been given free rein to spy on its people.

"The authorities have a big responsibility in this issue," says Father Zerai.

In 2015, Father Zerai was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in assisting migrants and in 2017, Italian authorities suspected him of aiding and abbetting illegal immigration for his work.

"If you are a translator, you have in your hand the life of that person. We can't joke with the life of the people."

            SOURCE: Al Jazeera News