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Eritrea, Sudan re-designated by U.S. over violation of religious freedom

Eritrea and Sudan, are the only two African nations recently re-designated by the United States as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.

In all, the U.S. State Department said it had re-designated 10 countries over violations of religious freedoms. Beside the Africa duo, China is listed as well as Iran, Myanmar and North Korea.

Completing the list is Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and one of America’s biggest trade, diplomatic and security allies, Saudi Arabia. All 10 countries were re-designated on Dec. 22. Pakistan was also placed on a special watch list, the State Department added.

“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity,” the department said in a statement. “These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”

Eritrea, despite being a largely religious nation, there are multiple reports of the government having arrested and detained religious leaders, some without trial.

Issues came to a head in November last year when security forces were deployed to break up a rare protest in the capital, Asmara. Students of an Islamic school were protesting government interference in the running of their institution and calling for the release of a detained principal.

Sudan has also been severally accused of repressing religious freedoms especially of non-Muslims. Some of the undertones that led to South Sudan’s independence were hinged on religious freedoms. The country has a dominantly Muslim north with the south being Christian.


HailemariamFILE- In this Thursday, March 17, 2016 file photo Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn speaks to The Associated Press at his office in the capital Addis Ababa, 

In a surprise move, Ethiopia's leader on Wednesday announced plans to drop charges against political prisoners and close a notorious prison camp in what he called an effort to "widen the democratic space for all." This is the first time the government has acknowledged holding political prisoners.

Prime Minster Hailemariam Desalegn's comments came after months of sometimes deadly anti-government protests, the most serious since the current government came to power in 1991. The demonstrations engulfed much of the restive Oromia and Amhara regions and spread into other parts of the East African country, leading to a months-long state of emergency that has since been lifted.

"Political prisoners that are facing prosecutions and are already under arrest will be released," Hailemariam said. "And the notorious prison cell that was traditionally called Maekelawi will be closed down and turned into a museum."

It was not immediately clear how many such prisoners were being held across the country, a close U.S. security ally, or when they would be released.

Ethiopians were quick to respond, even with social media sites currently blocked.

"I'm writing you this struggling with my tears," wrote renowned blogger and former detainee Befeqadu Hailu. "All these pledges need to be implemented immediately."

Tens of thousands of people were arrested, and reportedly hundreds were killed, during the protests demanding wider freedoms that began in late 2015 and disrupted one of Africa's fastest growing economies.

As word spread Wednesday, Ethiopia's government sought to downplay the prime minister's announcement. A spokesman, Zadig Abraha, told The Associated Press that the country has no political prisoners and that "some members of political parties and other individuals that have been allegedly suspected of committing crimes and those convicted will be pardoned or their cases interrupted, based on an assessment that will be made."

Rights groups and opposition groups in Ethiopia had been calling for the release of political prisoners, saying they were arrested on trumped-up charges and punished for their points of view. Ethiopia's government has long been accused of arresting critical journalists and opposition leaders.

"Potentially big news," Human Rights Watch researcher Felix Horne said on Twitter after the announcement, as some observers waited to see the government's next move.

"In fact, there's a clear difference between political prisoners and politicians in prison," said Amha Mekonnen, a lawyer for well-known jailed politician Bekele Gerba. "But I believe those in detention are political prisoners. They were not arrested for stealing bed sheets but rather for allegedly crossing a red line while carrying out their political works."

"Today's announcement could signal the end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia," Amnesty International researcher Fisseha Tekle said in a statement calling for prisoners' immediate and unconditional release.

While the plans to close the Maekelawi camp are welcome, "the closure must not be used to whitewash the horrifying events that have taken place there," Fisseha said. "For years, Maekelawi has essentially functioned as a torture chamber, used by the Ethiopian authorities to brutally interrogate anybody who dares to dissent including peaceful protesters, journalists and opposition figures."




Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir attends talks of the Arab League summit in the Jordanian Dead Sea resort of Sweimeh, Jordan. (File photo: AP)

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has announced a 6-month state of emergency in the states of Kassala and North Kurdufan, government news agency SUNA said on Saturday.

The move is part of ongoing disarmament campaigns which started near Darfur and Blue Nile in October.

Last Update: Saturday, 30 December 2017 KSA 16:44 - GMT 13:44

Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa, United States

This appeal, from The American Team for Displaced Eritreans, comes as 700 Eritreans face deportation to likely torture or death.


The Italian occupation of Ethiopia, which lasted between May 1936 and May 1941, was the outcome of a brutal military campaign that saw the use of chemical weapons and overwhelming military force against the Ethiopian army and people. Despite heroic resistance the Ethiopian army was defeated and the Emperor Haile Selassie left the capital for exile in Britain. These images highlight some of the events surrounding this conflict.

Contact:  John Stauffer – 610-891-8470

The America Team for Displaced Eritreans


(MEDIA, PA,  December 22, 2017)   The America Team for Displaced Eritreans, joined by some 78 other organizations, has sent a letter to senior U.S. government officials urging that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suspend the imminent deportation of some 700 Eritreans under an order that the department had issued on September 13, 2017.  The letter expresses the signatories’ concern that any Eritreans who are removed are likely to be tortured or killed by the Eritrean regime.

The letter was addressed to the DHS Secretary, the Secretary of State, the Acting Director of ICE, the Ambassador to the United Nations, and the four leading members of Congress tasked with overseeing DHS through their committees.  The letter appears here: .

The America Team has been advocating against such a suspension since September.  The organization urges the Eritrean American community to consider taking the following actions:

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  1. Send a copy of the letter to your members of Congress, in both the Senate and the House of Representations. If possible, meet with their staff in person to discuss the matter.
  2. For any Eritreans who have lost good faith asylum claims – including those who

have been released from detention under orders of supervision – engage capable counsel at the earliest possible moment so as to reduce the risk of removal to Eritrea.  Important materials in this regard appear here: .

  1. For any Eritreans who have been contacted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for possible deportation, advise The America Team confidentially, so as to facilitate the tracking of the government’s enforcement efforts relative to the DHS order. Individuals may write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Africa, Eritrea, Netherlands

Date: 21/12/2017

1 Comment

The Dutch Parliament is debating how to respond to the latest evidence that the Eritrean government is continuing to lean on members of the Eritrean diaspora community living in the Netherlands.

Fresh evidence

On Saturday a programme by investigative journalists from Argos radio programme will be broadcast showing Eritrean refugees being forced to pay the notorious 2% tax to the Eritrean government – something the Dutch authorities have repeatedly insisted must end.

Portions of the programme have already been released.

The programme, using secretly filmed footage, quotes from a conversation with the head of the Embassy, Solomon Mehari.

In it, an Eritrean asylum seeker is forced to pay the so-called 2% tax and to express his “regret” for having fled from Eritrea.

If he refuses to sign he will not be issued with the government document he came to the Embassy to request.

From the transcripts of the conversation it appears that the asylum seeker is forced to sign a form in which he repents and accepts he will receive what is called the “correct sentence”.

“Every person that left the country must first sign this. There is no way around it. After that, we can give our services, ” he is told. [Full transcript below]

MPs call for Embassy closure

Anger and frustration was expressed by politicians at the behaviour of the Eritrean Embassy in three motions debated in the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday.

These ranged from calls for the Embassy to be closed, to investigations on whether the 2% tax could be made illegal.

MPs from across the political spectrum expressed their concerns that pressure and intimidation was continuing, despite government calls for the Eritrean embassy to cease acting in this way.

In September the Dutch government promised to act if this didn’t happen. “When firm evidence emerges of intimidation and unlawful coercion in relation to the collection of the Eritrean diaspora tax by the embassy in The Hague, diplomatic measures will not be ruled out,” the government promised in an official statement.

Responding to the debate, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Halbe Zijlstra, described closure of the Eritrean embassy as an extremely serious step, which would require proof.

He said that the Dutch government had called on Eritreans to report the matter to the police and that so far they had received 10 report, but these have yet to lead to a criminal investigation.

Mr Zijlstra offered to discuss possibility of undertaking a formal prosecution with the Prosecutor, and once more offered to discuss the matter with the Eritrean ambassador in Brussels.

Parliament will vote on the motions today [Thursday].

Transcript of the conversation recorded by Argos

Asylum seeker: It says here ‘I am prepared to receive the appropriate punishment for my mistakes and to sign my statement’. That is why I am asking you for more time to let this sink in. You understand what I mean, right?

Mehari: No, I have a different understanding. We think that the government wrote this for your own good.

Asylum seeker: I will think it over. Because it says: I am prepared to receive the appropriate punishment! What that punishment is is not even known. It could also sentence someone to death.

Mehari: Every person has a conscience and if a person made a mistake, he will not be able to deny it.

Asylum seeker: About the whole Eritrean population is fleeing. I have done nothing that others have not done. Can my document be worked on while I think about this?

Mehari: No, it can not. That is not my decision. I am telling you the general requirements. Every person that left the country must first sign this. There is no way around it. After that, we can give our services.

Asylum seeker: But I need my document.

Mehari: No.

Asylum seeker: It will be Christmas soon. I want to be with my children. Even if I pay everything, only not signing this apology statement…

Mehari: No.

Asylum seeker: So you will not give me a document?

Mehari: First you must sign and then we will ask other things of you.

Asylum seeker: Everyone that needs services must do this?

Mehari: And then you will receive a special card.

Asylum seeker: Do I actually have to pay the 2% in one go? I mean, I have worked for 4-5 years. And if you have no money in your account, it is difficult.

Mehari: Listen, it is your own fault that you delayed it for so long.

Asylum seeker: I heard that it was voluntary.

Mehari: It is voluntary! If there are 10,000 Eritreans here in Holland and if half pays, we will not visit the houses of the other half to take it. But if someone asks something of the country, then that person must do what must be done. Shall we close now?

Asylum seeker: Well, It could be payed in terms, could it not?

Mehari: Such a thing does not exist. It is Thursday now. Take the weekend and come to a decision.


The role played by the Zimbabwe military and security forces shows that how much the military leadership who led the downfall of the Mugabe dictatorship were professional and preserving national interests instead of serving the dictatorship. This shows that Zimbabwe military was not corrupted by bribes, spoils of office, ethnic manipulation of appointments and promotions. Comparing the Eritrean military and security forces with that of Zimbabwe, the Eritrean military is not professional but enforced paramilitaries loyal to the regime or serving the interests of the regime.

When one country's military is less professional, it is less likely to act in pursuit of national interests and distance itself from the regime. Zimbabwe's military action was not coup but was very skilled and wise peaceful method of toppling the regime of Mugabe unlike many of  the previous coups in African countries.

It is essential that the Eritrean Democracy Activists be concerned on the relation between the civil society movements and the military in Eritrea because several studies pointed that the coercive strength of the military is a great hinder for democratization.

 One of the most important aspect of the struggle from dictatorship to democracy is to subordinate the military under civilian rule and be under democratic rule. The military's role is to make the process of democratization peaceful and guarantee security and stability of the people.

The great majority of the post -colonial African states began by constituting states based on constitution and election but later transformed to dictatorship, but in case of Eritrea, after independence is unique than the other post-colonial states of Africa, the EPLF/PFFDJ failed in all aspects to fulfil the criteria of state building based on constitution and institutions.

Under what conditions can the military in Eritrea facilitate a democratic transition like that of Zimbabwe? When can it happen? How can it happen?

In this article I will attempt to focus on the above mentioned questions. The regime in Eritrea is weak in all aspects of governance, its only institution is the military and security to unite and control the country through the methods of repression. Both the military and the civilians have been suffering under the authoritarian rule of the regime. In the past years the military and security in Eritrea have been opposed to democratic change and taken side with the dictator like many other African countries, for example in Togo, Zaire, Congo, and Niger.

Among many other reasons, the main condition was that the popular movements for democratic change was lack of policy and no attention given to the military and security forces in Eritrea. According to Luckham, the military establishment and other repressive organs in any dictatorship are the single most important obstacle to democratisation, and Monshiopouri argues likewise that, " the active support or acquiescence of the military is the key to any viable and sustained political transition to democracy." Hutchful argues that, paying to little attention to the military dimension of democratisation might prove " a crucial and potentially costly omission." There can be no transition or consolidation of democracy unless the military takes the side of the democratic transition. As in our case, both the military and the security forces, through their current control over the state's coercive apparatus are the necessary means to carry out its political agenda.

In case of the Eritrean military, it is equally oppressed and is suffering under crisis for so many years and in this situation it can be motivated to work for democratic transition in Eritrea. For example in 1994, in Malawi the military joined the forces for democratic change, and in Benin in 1990, the military refused to face down popular protests against the authoritarian regime. In Mali, a reform- minded faction of the military even decided to intervene actively to terminate the regime itself and facilitate the transition to democracy. The common condition in all these countries' is the same like that of our Eritrea. It is oppression in all spheres of their lives. What the Eritrean forces for democratic change need is to prepare for creating conditions where the military and security forces in Eritrea can facilitate democratic transition like that of Zimbabwe or other like the Benin or Malawi methods of transition.

December 15, 2017 (ADDIS ABABA) – A new report released by the New York-based press freedom group revealed that Egypt and Eritrea are Africa’s leading jailers of journalists in 2017.

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Egyptian anti-government protesters celebrate at Cairo’s Tahrir Square after president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11, 2011 (Getty Images)

According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) report Egypt and Eritrea take the first and second spot, with 20 and 15 cases respectively.

The report showed a record number of jailed journalists for the second year across the world.

CPJ said the number of journalists imprisoned for their work hit a historical high, as the U.S. and other Western powers failed to pressure the world’s worst jailers—Turkey, China, and Egypt—into improving the bleak climate for press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists found.

As of December 1, 2017, CPJ found 262 journalists behind bars around the world in relation to their work, an increase on last year’s historical high of 259. Turkey is again the worst jailer, with 73 journalists imprisoned for their work as the country continues its press freedom crackdown. China and Egypt again take the second and third spot, with 41 and 20 cases respectively. The worst three jailers are responsible for jailing 134—or 51 percent—of the total.

Following Eritrea Azerbaijan and Vietnam are also on the top list with 10 cases each.

“In a just society, no journalist should ever be imprisoned for their work and reporting critically, but 262 are paying that price,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “It is shameful that for the second year in a row, a record number of journalists are behind bars. Countries that jail journalists for what they publish are violating international law and must be held accountable. The fact that repressive governments are not paying a price for throwing journalists in jail represents a failure of the international community.”

According to CPJ’s census 194 journalists, or 74 percent, are imprisoned on anti-state charges, many under broad or vague terror laws. In Turkey, every journalist on the census is either accused of or charged with anti-state crimes. Although many journalists cover multiple beats, politics was the most dangerous, covered by 87 percent of those jailed. Nearly all the jailed journalists are local and the percentage of freelancers is higher this year, accounting for 29 percent of cases.

The international community has done little to isolate repressive countries and U.S. President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric and insistence on labelling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists. CPJ’s 2017 census found the number of journalists jailed for “false news” doubled this year, to 21 cases.

Poor prison conditions is another issue this year, with two journalists jailed in China, including Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, dying just weeks after being released on medical parole, and several others seriously ill. In Egypt, CPJ found over half of the jailed journalists have health conditions.

The prison census accounts only for journalists in government custody and does not include those who have disappeared or are held captive by non-state groups, such as several Yemeni journalists CPJ believes to be held by the Ansar Allah movement, known as the Houthis. These cases are classified as “missing” or “abducted.” CPJ has been conducting an annual survey of journalists in jail since the early 1990s.

CPJ’s list is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2017. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at Journalists remain on CPJ’s list until the organization determines with reasonable certainty that they have been released or have died in custody.

CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.



Arbi Harnet (Freedom Friday) activists in Asmara confirms news that has been circulated by Eritrean radio broadcasts about the closure of hundreds of businesses across the city.

According to the activists it is unclear how many firms have been affected. The exact reason for the closures differs slightly from business to business.

bar AlbaAn activist, who was in contact on Monday, confirmed that :‘many of Asmara’s iconic landmark cafes and hotels are not open for business, this includes Bar Alba and Sweet Asmara Café (you can see the pictures showing that they are both shut in the middle of the day).

This is where ordinary people gather for coffee and chats.

In addition, some large hotels and resturants are also affected.

Median and Savana are the ones I can confirm. Restaurants like Golden Fork have also been targeted’.

Although the exact reason for the closures is unclear, the pretext seems to be ‘failure to follow financial regulations’.

Some are accused of hoarding their cash (rather than depositing it into banks) while others are accused of attempting to evade taxes.

However, the activists noted: ‘if they deposit their money they can’t have access to it easily as there are limits of 5000 Nakfa [per month] (about $330), and this includes their personal expenses’.

Businesses are required to carry out all other transaction by cheque or bank transfers, which are not convenient for many.

Remarking on the other potential reasons for the government’s heavy handed action Sweet Asmara Cafethe activist concludes: ‘this is clearly a measure to control people and their activities.

Financial activities are one aspect, but these are public places where people gathered and discussed many issues, including their grievances against the government and that could be the reason for all this.

It also shows that the government isn’t interested in promoting business or tourism in the country. Guests in these hotels had to evacuate with almost immediate effect.

No doubt those that had the means to do so would leave the country. Those who had been thinking of visiting visit will reconsider their plans’.


Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa


(translated from Dutch, please find the original here)

In 2015, Dutch Professor Mirjam van Reisen (Tilburg University, Leiden University) was interviewed by Dutch radio station BNR nieuwsradio about the news that people with ties to the Eritrean regime were employed as interpreters at the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). In response to her statements in this interview, the (by now former) chair of the YPFDJ in the Netherlands, the youth department of the Eritrean regime in the Netherlands, started a court case (interim injunction proceedings) against Van Reisen. She won the proceedings, after which an appeal was started. The court has decided this week to dismiss the case and has ruled that the judge of the interim injuction proceedings had correctly dismissed all claims against Van Reisen.

The court case was about the following. Van Reisen commented in the interview about two interpreters, brother and sister, of the then-chair of the YPFDJ Netherlands, Mr. Bahlbi: “they are people that have been in the Netherlands for a long time, of whom the brother of the two concerned is the center of the Eritrean intelligence of which the heart is in the Netherlands, and that is known information and a fact.

The Court investigated whether there was enough factual support for this statement and judges that this is the case:

The Court is of the opinion that the assertations of Van Reisen are support to such an extent that the facts presented contain the necessary indications that the YPFDJ functions in part as a component in the intelligence network of the government of Eritrea (…)

Bahlbi [has been] chair of the YPFDJ Netherlands for several years and still [was] at the time of the interview. As chair, he can be considered as the center of the YPFDJ in the Netherlands in any case, while furthermore, concrete indications exist that this organisation plays a role in the intelligence network of Eritrea. Bahlbi has therefore made himself vulnerable to accusations of involvement with the intelligence network, by becoming chair of the YPFDJ Netherlands and by his presence at yearly conferences and other meetings of that YPFDJ, whereby in addition it can be assumed that he was in touch with representatives of the government of Eritrea.

Besides this, the Court also takes into account that the statements of Van Reisen came as a response to an article on about the interpreters. The Court is of the opinion that in this article, an “important wrongdoing that affects the society is coveredand because of this, Van Reisen has the right to “a large freedom to express herself about this in the interview in response to the article.

Another complaint was issued with regard to a lack of right of defence (audi alteram partem). On this subject, the Court rules that Van Reisen “cannot be blamed for violating the principle of right of defence because it was BNR Nieuwsradio that chose to not let Bahlbi speak as well.

Van Reisen was supported in the appeal by lawyers Christien Wildeman and Emiel Jurjens.


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