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Eritrea: ‘10,000 political prisoners in awful conditions’ – BBC

Thousands of political prisoners are being held by Eritrea in "unimaginably atrocious conditions", says Amnesty International, and not one has ever been charged with any crime. The rights group says at least 10,000 people have been

Thousands of political prisoners are being held by Eritrea in “unimaginably atrocious conditions”, says Amnesty International, and not one has ever been charged with any crime.

The rights group says at least 10,000 people have been jailed for political reasons since President Isaias Afewerki came to power 20 years ago.

It says torture is widespread in a network of detention centres.

Eritrea’s ambassador to London Tesfamicael Gerahtu denied the charges.

He told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that the number of 10,000 people imprisoned was a “mythical” figure and that people were free to express their view in the country.

The Eritrean ambassador also confirmed that Eritrea’s long-time Information Minister Ali Abdu had fled the country “about six months ago” but did not say why.

Some of those imprisoned are journalists or critics of the government, the Amnesty report says. Others have practised an unregistered religion, or tried to flee the country or avoid conscription into the army.

In most cases, prisoners’ families are not informed of their whereabouts, and often never hear from their relative again.

“The government has systematically used arbitrary arrest and detention without charge to crush all opposition, to silence all dissent, and to punish anyone who refuses to comply with the repressive restrictions it places on people’s lives,” said Claire Beston, Amnesty’s Eritrea researcher.

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Eritrea in focus

  • Once an Italian colony, Eritrea gained independence from neighbouring Ethiopia in 1993 after a 32-year armed struggle
  • Relations with Ethiopia, a key US ally, deteriorated and the neighbours fought a border war between 1998 and 2000 in which some 100,000 people were killed
  • The UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 after accusations that President Isaias Afewerki’s government was backing anti-Ethiopian Islamist insurgents in Somalia
  • Eritrea is the only African country to have no privately owned news media
  • The UN estimates that 3,000 Eritreans left the country each month last year – often fleeing poverty and national service for men until the age of 40
  • Eritrea is said to be on the brink of a mining boom, but economic progress is hampered by the proportion of those in the army rather than the workforce

“Twenty years on from the euphoric celebrations of independence, Eritrea is one of the most repressive, secretive and inaccessible countries in the world.”

Helicopter position

The facilities used as detention centres include underground cells or shipping containers, Amnesty says.

The group says some prisoners are left for days in what is known as the helicopter position – lying face down with their hands and feet bound together.

It says it has received many reports of deaths in detention resulting from torture, the bad conditions or suicide.

A former detainee held in a detention centre in Barentu told Amnesty:

“The room was about 2.5m by 3m [8 by 10 feet] and we were 33 people. It is very, very hot. The door is closed, the ceiling is low, about 2m. The temperature was about 50C.

“A boy, about 17 years old, was about to die. We were not permitted to speak, but we banged the door. They [the guards] told us they would kill all of us if we did not stop shouting. We couldn’t do anything to help him.”

Amnesty is calling for all prisoners to be either immediately charged with a recognisable crime or released.

Review overview
  • berhe May 11, 2013

    Eritrean prison population is not only about ten thousands. The country is a prison by it self.
    The proud owner of the big prison is the Tembenay and his friends.

    • tesfa May 13, 2013


  • bihat May 11, 2013

    Why the international community doasnt interven in case of Eritrea?
    Expecting western intervention
    where there is no western political,geopolitical,economic or whatsoever intertest is as simple as a day dream folkens
    the simpleast and latest example is Mali.
    France’s interest was treatend due due to the approach of the rebels and they should be crashed by the direct militery involvment of frence.and we shouldnt forget where any western nation is involved in any conflict the others will back up regardless its legitimacy and the U.N.will fellow.

    Eritrea in the eyes of west:

    Some of us may bliev that westerners specially the U.S.favours Ethiopia due to special reasons but the fact remains that the U.S. has no significant economic advantage from Ethiopia to start with.
    Our uncalculated and staburnness to the west and specially to the the byproduct which strengthed their relationship “kab zeytifelto melaaki si tifelto seytan”

    Salvation of Eritrean peaple by the west?

    The atrocities of the eritrean peaple definitly qualifies for salvation,but the west have learned that worst can come after bad.
    unless there is organized oppsition of the peaple the west is coutious about what can come next.

    As i said in my last komment the solution is in our hand we should first know what we wont and then how to get it.
    Lets do our home work first.

    May god forgiv us and bless Eritrea

  • Yohannes May 11, 2013

    I have a serious concern that the containers of medical supplies,shipped by “EMENET” may provide the dictator with more containers to imprison more innocent Eritreans, as well as provide more desperately needed medical supplies for his trusted colonels and servants. I wish someone could hide a tacking device to all containers that go to Eritrea. Thanks

  • Semhar May 14, 2013

    TALK IS CHEAP WE NEED ACTION like ጅግና፡ ኤርትራዊ ስዉእ ስዒድ ዓሊ ሕጃይ (ወዲ ዓሊ and his courageous comrades who marched from Sorona, Akeleguzay to FORTO, Asmera to liberate our land and our people.

    Let’s free all our political prisoners!
    Let’s fallow his foot stapes and liberate our land and our people!

  • Semhar May 14, 2013


    The mad dog ድያብሎስ! Isayas was sent by Asrate Kasa the former Governor of Eritrea and by his uncle Degezmach Solomon Abreha, former governor of Wollo province of Ethiopia to dissolve the Eritrean Liberation Front. 

    1) He dissolved E.L.F in 1980. 

    2) He dissolved E.P.L.F in 1993 and replaced them by his own blind organization HIGDEF.
3) He took down The Eritrean Liberation flag in 1993 and replaced it by his own burned flag.
4) He dissolved the historical Eritrean provinces in 1993 and replaced them by his own Zobas. 

    5) He dissolved the historical law of the land “HIGHI INDABA” “Eritrean constitution” and replaced it by his own MAFIA Law.

    2013, the mad dog ድያብሎስ! Isayas has a new mission, 

    1) To sacrifice Eritreans in the war against Ethiopia by siding with Egypt.
    2) To surrender the port of ASSAB to Ethiopia by leasing it to Qatar and Qatar leasing it to Ethiopia. 

    As long as Isayas and HIGDEF are in Eritrea misery and death will continue. 

    The only solution is to get rid of crazy mad dog ድያብሎስ!Isayas wedi Medhin Berad, his son, and his blind followers HIGDEF just like the Libyans did to Gadafi, his sons and his followers. Eritreans should unite and get rid the tyrant mad dog Isayas, his son and his blind followers the HIGDEF.

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