September 23, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – Media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the European Union (EU) to closely watch Eritrea over gross human rights violations by the regime which Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.
RSF issued the statement while paying tribute to the 11 Eritrean journalists held indefinitely in inhuman conditions since September 2001.
The 2001 crackdown against journalists in Eritrea came one year after the country ended a bloody war with its larger neighbour, Ethiopia, over border dispute.
On September 2001, some 15 high-ranking officials from the ruling People’s Front for Democracy party wrote a protest letter to President Isaias Afwerki calling him for reform, implement the constitution and conduct national elections.
The open letter further blames the president for going to war with Ethiopia which claimed the lives of 70,000 people.
They said the war was unnecessary and accused the president of taking actions that were “illegal and unconstitutional”.
The protest letter which shortly led to the arrest of the then known as G-15 was widely published by a number of independent Media leading to arrest of editors of all the independent print media.
The government also shut down all independent media in Eritrea.
This month marks 15 year in jail without charge for the 11 journalists.
A report last year by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea said the regime in Asmara is responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations.
The grave human right violations the report said have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labour and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands forced to flee the country.
With this regard RSF urged the European Union, which is trying to normalize its relations with Asmara, to not close its eyes to actions that constitute crimes against humanity and violations of the Eritrean population’s fundamental rights.
“We also address this message to the EU governments that are negotiating a return to normal relations with Asmara without asking about political prisoners and human rights,” RSF said.
The rights group said at least 15 journalists are currently detained arbitrarily in Eritrea but the number might be higher because no information emerges from the secretive nation.
Extrajudicial killings, widespread torture, sexual slavery are also among right abuses long been reported by right groups.
Western governments have lately shown a clear interest to normalize relations with the reclusive East African nation as part of their strategy to stem a huge flow of Eritrean refugees to European soil.
“The EU cannot close its eyes to the Eritrean government’s countless violations, which a UN Human Rights Council report in June described as ‘crimes against humanity.’ The EU cannot adopt a conciliatory position towards the Afeworki regime” it added.
Among the arrested journalists seven are believed to have died in detention.
“We call on President Afeworki to stop persisting in these arbitrary and repressive practices and to free the journalists who are still imprisoned,” RSF said.
“The freedoms of Eritrea’s citizens have been constantly flouted for the past 15 years on the grounds of national security and the eternal conflict with Ethiopia”
“The president says his priority is development. You cannot have sustainable development without an open society in which the justice system functions and freedoms are respected,” it added.
Eritrea has been ranked last out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index every year for the past eight years.
Referred by right groups as the North Korea of Africa, the Red Sea nation is one of the world’s most repressive states.
Currently there are an estimated 10,000 political prisoners in atrocious conditions in different prison facilities across the country where they remain subjected to different forms of abuses.