15 years in jail, still no freedom for Eritrean politicians and journalists

demonstration_for_dawit_isaak_5000_days_in_2015-2This week marks the 15th year since Eritrean authorities arrested a group ministers, members of parliament and independent journalists. They have not been charged or tried, their whereabouts and state of health are unknown.

The arrests took place on 18 September 2001 and in the days that followed. The officials, known as the G-11, were arrested for demanding reform and implementation of the constitution. Independent media was shut down and journalists were arrested, among whom the Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak. Eritrea has consequently ranked very low on the World Press Freedom Index – it has held the lowest place for eight years in a row.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, released a press statement wherein she called upon the Eritrean government to urgently provide information on the location and health of those that were arrested. So far, even family members have not been permitted to contact the prisoners or obtain any knowledge about their well-being.

Human Rights Watch has called upon the European Union and other allies to put pressure on the Eritrean authorities for information. Should the captives still be alive, they should  either be fairly charged and tried or immediately released, says Human Rights Watch.

Earlier this year in June 2016, the United Nations commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea concluded that crimes against humanity have been and are being committed by authorities in Eritrea. Despite this, the European Commission has sought closer engagement with Eritrea by, for example, the development aid commitment of 200 million euros that was signed in January 2016. If the Eritrean government is serious about the reform that it has promised, information about the well-being of the prisoners would be a step in the right direction, according to Human Rights Watch.