Death in Custody and Mass Arrests in Eritrea Continue

Death in custody and indiscriminate mass arrests continue in Eritrea, as the ruling regime suppresses the population by means of further abuses. Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) condemns these ongoing atrocities and is concerned that they are so frequent as to appear normal and acceptable.

Sheikh Hajji Musa Mohamed Nur believed to have passed away in detention on March 1st 2018, after he was illegally detained on October 20th 2017. Mr Hajji Musa, who was 94 at the time of death, had outspokenly criticised the government’s attempts to close the Al Dia Islamic School, of which he was Chairman.

Following his arrest, there was a student demonstration in the streets of Asmara which was met with violent gunfire by soldiers in the middle of the capital city. It is believed many of those arrested then are still being kept in prisons with no access to a lawyer or visits from family, and it is even reported that children have been hospitalised as a result of military violence.

The news of his death comes just after the news of the death of Haile Weldetensae (Durue). Mr. Weldetensae was one of the founding members of the EPLF which led the final struggle for independence of Eritrea. After he helped achieve independence, and a decade of service in ministerial and diplomatic roles, he was arrested on the 18 September 2001 for criticising the weak governance of Isaias Afwerki, the sole president to this day. Whilst the news came from a single source, it is not unlike other information about what happens in these secretive prisons, that similarly reaches the public only through unofficial press “leaks”.

The government of Eritrea is responsible for arresting its critics and those it sees as political opponents without giving them due process or trial. It has so far kept what are estimated to be thousands of people in undisclosed places without any access by anyone. As a result, many die in these prisons after being detained in abhorrent conditions, as testified either by witnesses who have managed to escape or by prison guards who have fled the mandatory indefinite military service they are forced to serve.

In the last year alone, reports of deaths in custody have caused much mourning and despair in the Eritrean community within the country and abroad. These reports reveal the deaths of ordinary citizens detained simply for their religious beliefs, such as Fikadu Debesay, or senior officials such as Haile ‘Durue’ Weldetensae and Solomon Habtom (the ex- head of telecommunications who died after 14 years of incommunicado detention) , and community leaders such as Sheikh Hajji Musa Mohammed Nur.

However, the regime in Eritrea does not allow any form of expression of grief or mourning; nor does it show any concern for the consequences of its actions. After the family of Sheikh Hajji Musa collected his body and arranged to bury him, the community around him and those grieving for the death of such brave outspoken senior member of the society gathered for his funeral procession. In typical fashion, however, the Eritrean government deployed military and, under allegations of soldiers being attacked by stones, it closed the gates of the cemetery behind the procession. It appears that around a thousand people have been arrested and detained in the infamous Adi Abeito prison near Asmara, itself a site of deaths in custody, including prisoners being killed by gunfire.

HRCE calls for the immediate release of anyone arrested simply for participating in the funeral procession or expressing their discontent at the Government of Eritrean’s violation of their human rights.


9 March 2018

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)