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Category: English

Eritrea sees frantic defamation campaign that could willfully distort the 2018 agreement with Ethiopia

Eritrea Ethiopia agreement On Monday, Eritrea’s Minister for Information, Yemane Gebre Meskel, said a defamation campaign against Eritrea is increasing.  He did not name names other than using the description “Eritrea’s detractors.” 

He tweeted : 

“Eritrea’s detractors have ratched up[ratchet up], by several notches, their mendacious campaign of defamation. This frantic campaign willfully distorts the 2018 Eritrea-Ethiopia historic Agreement that contains normative pillars of cooperation & the silencing of guns.” 

#Eritrea's detractors have ratched up, by several notches, their mendacious campaign of defamation. This frantic campaign willfully distorts the 2018 Eritrea-Ethiopia historic Agreement that contains normative pillars of cooperation & the silencing of guns

Mr. Yemane disclosed the full content of the joint declaration signed  in Asmara between Eritrea and Ethiopia months after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in April 2018. 

Apart from ending a two decades old state of war between the two countries,  the agreement was meant to ( among many other things) create an intimate relationship to which both governments would commit themselves. 

 “The two governments will endeavor to forge intimate political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation that serves and advances the vital interests of their peoples,” says one of the points of the agreement. 

The United States and some of its European allies ( including the EU) have been blackmailing Eritrea in connection with the war in the Northern part of Ethiopia which is said to have “ended” with the signing of the Pretoria agreement in November 2022. 

Locally, the TPLF  and its propaganda machines have been mounting accusations against Eritrea over “continued rights abuse in the Tigray region.”  The claims are not investigated by an independent party. 

Eritrea was provoked as a country by the TPLF when the latter fired rockets targeting Asmara soon after it attacked the northern commands of the Ethiopian Defense Force in November 2020. 

In addition, Ethiopia and Eritrea entered into an agreement for a joint effort to ensure regional peace, and TPLF’s war was clearly one that called for cooperation between the two countries. 

When several posts of the Northern Command of the Ethiopian Defense Force were attacked, the remaining units were rescued by special forces from the Amhara region responding to the attack in the west and Eritrea allowed Ethiopian troops to enter its border to reorganize response to the TPLF war. 

The United States and its allies have long been demanding the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the Tigray region. It even became part of the agreement between the TPLF and the Ethiopian government. 

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s at no point responded to the international community in terms of explaining Eritrea’s presence in the Tigray region when the two governments have agreed for a joint security arrangement. 

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Category: English

Eritrea: 10 Years Behind Bars for Ex-Minister’s Daughter

Ciham Ali Abdu (Nairobi) – The Eritrean government should immediately release Ciham Ali Abdu, unlawfully held since she was arrested a decade ago, when she was only 15, Human Rights Watch said today. She is a dual United States-Eritrean national.

Ciham was born in Los Angeles on April 3, 1997, but moved to Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, with her father, Ali Abdu Ahmed, when he took up a position as a government official under President Isaias Afewerki. In 2012, Ali Abdu, information minister at the time, fled to Australia after a rift with the president. Shortly afterward, on December 8, 2012, Ciham was arrested while trying to flee to Sudan for her safety. She has never been charged with any offense and has not been seen since then.

“Eritrea’s government has robbed Ciham Ali Abdu of 10 years of her life, effectively disappearing her since she was 15,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Eritrea should immediately and unconditionally release Ciham, and countless others unlawfully detained across the country.”

Eritrea’s repressive government imposes severe restrictions on its population, including on freedom of expression, opinion, and faith. The government forcibly recruits much of its adult population into indefinite military or national service.

Eritrean authorities also detained Ciham’s 87-year-old grandfather, Abdu Ahmed Younes, and her uncle, Hassen Abdu Ahmed, after Ali fled. Abdu died shortly after his release in December 2017, while Hassen remains in detention.

A relative of Ciham told Human Rights Watch they have not received any information from the government on Ciham’s whereabouts or wellbeing since her arrest, constituting an enforced disappearance.

Enforced disappearances are defined under international human rights law as the arrest or detention of a person by the authorities followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.

International and regional actors, notably the US government given Ciham’s dual nationality, should press for immediate information on her whereabouts and well-being, confirmation that she is still alive, and call for her unconditional release, Human Rights Watch said.

To mark the 10 year anniversary of her arrest, an Eritrean diaspora group, One Day Seyoum, is drawing attention to her plight with a social media campaign calling on people to light a candle and hold 10 minutes of silence in her honor.

The Eritrean government has used mass roundups and prolonged arbitrary arrests and detentions without access to legal counsel, judicial review, or family visits, in some cases for decades, against perceived opponents or to prevent and punish perceived criticism. Many detainees, including high government officials and journalists arrested in 2001 after they questioned Isaias’s leadership, have been held incommunicado for over 21 years or perhaps have died in detention.

Many prisoners languish in the country’s extensive formal and informal prison network, in overcrowded detention sites, with inadequate food, water, and medical care.

Arbitrary incarceration is common. In recent months, the government has temporarily detained scores of people accused of evading the country’s indefinite military conscription, as well as relatives of these alleged “draft evaders,” and religious leaders.

Between October 11 and 15, 2022, the Eritrean government without explanation detained three Catholic priests, Abba Abraham Habtom Gebremariam, Father Mihretab Stefanos, and Bishop Abune Fikremariam Hagos, who was arrested at Asmara airport on October 15 as he returned from a trip abroad. In 2019, Abune Hagos, along with three other Catholic bishops, had published a pastoral letter calling for democratic reform in the country. The bishops have also called for peace in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and raised concerns about abuses there.

Eritrea also detains people purely for their religious beliefs. While several people belonging to faiths that the government does not recognize were released in 2020 and 2021, others affiliated with these “unrecognized” faiths continue to be imprisoned for attending religious meetings and for conscientious objection. Twenty Jehovah witnesses remain in detention, including 80-year-old Tesfazion Gebremichael who has been in detention since 2011.

“As global attention focuses on ongoing abuses by Eritrean forces in Ethiopia, it should amplify efforts to end the daily repression faced by Eritreans back home,” Bader said. “Eritrea’s regional and international partners should make clear that no government can get away with disappearing people.

Category: English

Will the Catholic world rally to defend imperiled bishop in Eritrea?

Will the Catholic world rally to defend imperiled bishop in Eritrea?If you really want a Catholic bishop to worry about right now, a more harrowing choice probably would be Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim, the 52-year-old prelate of Segheneity in Eritrea, which is traditionally considered the cradle of Christianity in the country. Appointed in 2012, Tsalim was arrested by the regime on Oct. 15 and is reportedly being held in the notorious Adi Abeito prison on the outskirts of the capital city of Asmara.

ROME – Much of the Catholic world this week has been focused on Hong Kong, where 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen and five other defendants were found guilty of failing to register a pro-democracy fund, which is considered a crime under a new national security law imposed by Chinese authorities. Zen has been ordered to pay a fine of $500.Even if veteran commentator Nina Shea is right that the real penalty imposed by the trial isn’t so much the fine but the intimidation factor, effectively muzzling “China’s last globally prominent dissident,” the fact remains that Zen isn’t going to rot in jail. Should he elect to do so, he’s free to relocate someplace and continue his outspoken criticism of the Chinese regime.

If you really want a Catholic bishop to worry about right now, a more harrowing choice probably would be Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim, the 52-year-old prelate of Segheneity in Eritrea, which is traditionally considered the cradle of Christianity in the country. Appointed in 2012, Tsalim was arrested by the regime on Oct. 15 and is reportedly being held in the notorious Adi Abeito prison on the outskirts of the capital city of Asmara.

At around the same time, two other Catholic priests were also arrested and both men, according to relatives, are also being held at Adi Abeito along with Tsalim.

As is par for the course in Eritrea, the three clerics have been detained without any legal proceedings or judicial review, they have no right to attorneys or to visitations, there’s no process to appeal their arrests, and the government has not commented on their case.

With regard to Tsalim’s long-term prospects, there’s abundant reason for concern.

Earlier this year, 94-year-old Abune Antonios, an Orthodox cleric in Eritrea, died in prison, having been kept in solitary confinement for the previous 16 years. Like Tsalim, Antonios was considered an enemy of the state for his criticism of the regime of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, who’s been in power since Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991.

By virtually every measure available, Eritrea is considered one of the world’s worst offenders in terms of violations of religious freedom.

While precise counts are elusive, most estimates hold that somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 Christians are currently languishing in Eritrean prisons for reasons related to their religious beliefs.

Many of those prisoners are kept in crude camps in the Eritrean desert, where inmates are packed into discarded 40-by-38 foot shipping containers, which generally are so crowded there’s no room to lie down and barely enough to sit. The metal exacerbates desert temperatures, meaning bone-chilling cold at night and suffocating heat during the day estimated to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit or more. One former inmate, released after signing a coerced confession, described the containers as “giant ovens baking people alive.”

Here’s how another former prisoner, Evangelical gospel singer Helen Berhane, describes the reality at night.

“A single candle flickers, its flame barely illuminating the darkness. They never burn for more than two hours after the door is locked; there’s not enough oxygen to keep the flame alive. The air is thick with a dirty metallic tang, the ever-present stench of the bucket in the corner, and the smell of close-pressed, unwashed bodies. Despite the proximity of so many people, it’s freezing cold.”

Although Catholics are a small minority in Eritrea, estimated at no more than four percent of the population of six million people, they’ve long been a target of security forces because of the church’s criticism of the Afwerki regime.

In 2019, the government initially closed all Catholic hospitals in Eritrea, demanding that ownership be transferred to the state, and later also shuttered Catholic schools. The repression came after the country’s Catholic bishops, including Tsalim, issued a pastoral letter calling for greater human rights and religious freedom.

Tsalim has also criticized Eritrea’s role in a conflict in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, where relations between Afwerki and his former allies in the push for independence from Ethiopia have soured.

“The regime constantly oppresses the Catholic Church in Eritrea, for ideological and political reasons mixed with profiteering, all designed to weaken its role as a voice of conscience,” said Father Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean who lives in exile in Switzerland and who’s known for his efforts to aid migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Europe.

“Catholic bishops in Eritrea have raised their voice to protest the illegal confiscation of church property and efforts to prevent the church from carrying out its mission in service to the people,” Zerai said. “Bishop Hagos is one of the few people [in the country] who defends the truth … he lives for his religious vocation.”

Here’s the reality of the situation.

Although the Afwerki government in Eritrea hardly feels beholden to Western standards of democracy and due process of law, it has shown itself sensitive to concentrated outside pressure. When Berhane was arrested in 2004, shortly after she’d released her first album of Christian music, the Evangelical world mobilized on her behalf and forged an international campaign for her release that included both Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Amnesty International.

By late October 2006, Berhane had become seriously ill because of the brutal conditions in which she was being held. Apparently fearing negative publicity should she die while in detention, the regime released Berhane, who was eventually granted asylum in Denmark along with her daughter Eva.

The question now is, will the Catholic community rise to Tsalim’s defense as the Evangelicals did for Berhane? Time will tell … and, given Eritrea’s track record, time may not be on Tsalim’s side.

Category: English

Ethiopia, TPLF agree rebels to ‘disarm’ if Eritrea troops leave

Field Marshall Birhanu Jula and TPLF’s Lt Gen Tadesse Warede The Ethiopian government on Saturday agreed with commanders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that the rebel fighters would disarm once Eritrean troops leave the war scene.

A disarmament agreement reached in Nairobi, on the mediation of the African Union negotiators, said the rebel group had accepted to surrender both heavy and light weaponry to help end the war. But that decision would be pegged on the departure of “foreign forces”.

The Nairobi document titled ‘Declaration of the Senior Commanders on the Modalities for the Implementation of the Agreement for Lasting Peace Through Permanent Cessation of Hostilities’ seeks to ensure an orderly arms surrender for the combatants, but is mainly focused on ensuring a return to normalcy including unhindered humanitarian access to the troubled Tigray region.

One national defence force

It did not name Eritrean troops by name. However, a clause signed by Field Marshal Birhanu Jula, Ethiopia’s chief of the general staff and Lt-Gen Tadese Woreda, the commander of the Tigray armed combatants, says the two sides will only recognise one national defence force in Ethiopia.

“Disarmament of heavy weapons will be done concurrently with the withdrawal of foreign and non-NDF forces from the region,” says Article 2.1 (d) of the agreement on disarmament.

 

By AGGREY MUTAMBO