Eritrea becoming 'a giant prison'

Medeshi April 16, 2009
Eritrea becoming 'a giant prison'
The Eritrean government is turning its country into a giant prison, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Horn of Africa nation is widely using military conscription without end, as well as arbitrary detention of its citizens, says HRW.
(Photo: Eritrea is accused of using a border dispute to justify endless conscription)
Hundreds of Eritrean refugees forcibly repatriated from countries like Libya, Egypt and Malta face arrest and torture upon their return, says the group.
Religious persecution and forced labour are also rife in Eritrea, says HRW.
The report urges countries not to send back Eritrean asylum-seekers and calls on the international community and donors to exert pressure on the government in Asmara over its rights record.
HRW says every year thousands of Eritreans flee their country, where statutory national service, which used to last 18 months, has been made indefinite.
The advocacy group says most of Eritrea's adult population is currently conscripted.
Sixteen years after it won independence from Ethiopia following a three-decade war, Eritrea is one of the most closed and repressive states in the world, says the report.
It accuses President Isayas Afewerki of using an unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia to keep Eritrea on a permanent war-footing.
HRW says there is no independent civil society and all independent media outlets have been shut down.
People under the age of 50 are rarely granted visas to leave the country and those who try to do so without documentation face imprisonment and torture or being shot at the border, says the group.
Prisoners are often held in underground cells or in shipping containers with dangerously high temperatures, according to the report.
Meanwhile, Christians are being rounded up and tortured on a regular basis, says the group.
The BBC's Pascale Harter spoke to Salamay, a 16-year-old Eritrean refugee in Italy.
She said she fled when police began rounding up youths in her village for national service.
In Sudan, she said a family took her hostage and forced her to work without pay.
In Libya, she was taken to a prison where inmates faced rape every night by the guards.

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Story from BBC NEWS:

Rights groups says Eritrea becoming giant prison
Associated Press 2009-04-16 08:02 PM
Forced conscription, secret detentions and the killing of refugees are effectively turning the small African nation of Eritrea into a huge prison, a prominent human rights group said Thursday.
Human Rights Watch said Eritrea's government is secretly holding thousands of people without charge or trial and subjecting many to forced labor. The New York-based group also accused Eritrean authorities of shooting refugees trying to flee across the country's disputed border with Ethiopia and meting out harsh punishments to the families of those who escape.
The Eritrean Embassy in London did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the report and Eritrea's information minister did not return repeated phone messages seeking commment.
"Eritrea's government is turning the country into a giant prison," Georgette Gagnon, the organization's Africa director, said in a statement. "Eritrea should immediately account for hundreds of disappeared prisoners and open its jails to independent scrutiny."
Eritrea, a small coastal nation of about 5 million people at the edge of the Horn of Africa, is locked in a tense standoff with neighboring Ethiopia over the country's shared border. Once part of Ethiopia, Eritrea fought a bloody, three decade-long struggle for independence which ended in 1993. Both nations went to war again in 1998, a conflict which lasted 2 1/2 years and killed tens of thousands but left the border issue unresolved.
The war was followed by a crackdown on political opposition and media, according to Human Rights Watch. Citing interviews with Eritrean refugees and eyewitnesses, it said that conscription and mandatory service imposed by the government amounted to forced labor, and that torture was routine.
"Detention conditions are appalling, with detainees typically held in overcrowded cells sometimes underground or in shipping containers that reach searing temperatures by day and are freezing at night," the report said. It added that people trying to escape the country were shot at, and that families of those who fled were punished with imprisonment or exorbitant fines.
Human Rights Watch urged the United States, the European Union and the United Nations to work together to defuse the border dispute, saying that it was being used as an excuse by Eritrea to clamp down on human rights.
It said the dispute had consequences across the Horn of Africa, including lawless Somalia, which has become the land base for pirates who have seized many vessels in the nearby shipping lanes. ___
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