The student demonstration of October 31st 2017 in Asmara, the capital city prompted an exaggerated and violent reaction by the government, which ordered soldiers to shoot at the civilians (an order which seems to have been ignored). The immediate round-ups were not the only ones conducted, however, as it seems that they are still going on, incarcerating more young people and adults in jails to be interrogated. In an attempt to dismiss the protest, a visiting Senior Eritrean Government official in Riyadh informed the Eritrean community there that the protest was brought under control in a matter of minutes. However, in situations of unrest such as this one, ‘brought under control’ by the Eritrean government is widely understood to mean that those who dared demonstrate have been suppressed, punished, their parents’ business closed, and their licences revoked.
The Eritrean government continues violently suppressing underage children and silencing their voice as news emerging from Eritrea reveals terror and abuse reigning in the country. Being a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or any other of the various conventions promoting human dignity it promised to ratify, does not seem to be reason enough for the Eritrean government to stop jailing children for many days. Not only did the Eritrean government jail the underage children whom it rounded up during the demonstration, but it seems some of them had to be hospitalised, along with some adults, owing to the torture they were subjected to during interrogation.
Media outlets have also indicated that the representative of the committee of students’ parents have sent a letter requesting the release of the students (aged from 13 to 15), teachers and other parents who had been jailed. Although some have been released, the government’s response to the demonstration is typical of the way it represses any sign of dissent towards it: shock. Arresting and torturing underage children achieves nothing but instilling terror in the society. The move was aimed at demoralising young curious and active minds and making parents fear and discourage their young people from expressing their anger, simply to protect their children from harm.
The Eritrean government is not new to violently suppressing student demonstrations and young people’s voices. Underage children have routinely been rounded up for not having the necessary student ID cards. Most are released after a few days, but why jail the country’s youth for several days when they have committed no crime in the first place? Unfortunately, whether this is the government’s avowed purpose or not, it seems the lesson that Eritrean young people learn from their rights being repeatedly and randomly violated is that they have no claim at all to such rights as freedom of movement, expression, or assembly. After a university students’ demonstration in 2001, the Eritrean government sent the demonstrators to a camp in the desert area of the country to quell their movement. The students were beaten and tortured, whilst a few even died from the extreme heat and harsh prison conditions.
Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) is deeply concerned about the future of Eritrean children under a regime which shows no respect for any human rights. HRCE calls for the immediate release of any jailed children and their parents and the cessation of continual round-ups of citizens for participating in peaceful protests during which they demand respect for their fundamental rights. HRCE stands in solidarity with the Eritrean children and their parents in demanding free access for all to the full range of their human rights.