Human Rights – UK and Eritrea

In 2001, Eritrean dictator Isayas Afewerk closed down the free press and imprisoned leading opposition politicians and journalists. Since then ten leading journalists have been kept in isolation without charge, without trial and without contact with the outside world. Nobody knows their whereabouts and only four are now thought to be still alive.

The journalists were represented at the protest by a row of ten chairs opposite the Eritrean embassy in north London. Most were empty, with four people sitting with black gags holding up the names of those thought still be living, while to the side there were speakers and others holding posters about the disappeared journalists and politicians. The protest was organised by One Day Seyoum, a human rights movement working for the release of journalist Seyoum Tsehaye, one of the four thought still alive.

Lonely Planet‘s web site describes Eritrea thus:

“Historically intriguing, culturally compelling and scenically inspiring, Eritrea is one of the most secretive countries in Africa. For those with a hankering for off-the-beaten-track places, it offers challenges and excitement alike, with a unique blend of natural and cultural highlights.”

although the page does have a warning across the top about the Foreign office advice to UK citizens which should probably put anyone off visiting there, and certainly against going outside the capital, Asmara, which is apparently a fascinating place. The UK offers no consular services  elsewhere as it takes diplomats a week to get a permit required to travel outside, and tourists are subject to some pretty draconian restrictions.

A better description of the country comes from Human Rights Watch:

“Despite occasional vague promises of improvement, Eritrea’s respect for human rights obligations remains abysmal. In 2016, a United Nations Commission of Inquiry established by the Human Rights Council found the government’s “totalitarian practices” and disrespect for the rule of law manifested “wholesale disregard for the liberty” of its citizens. Thousands of Eritreans flee the country monthly to avoid “national service,” conscription that lasts indefinitely. Eritreans are subject to arbitrary arrest and harsh treatment in detention. Eritrea has had no national elections, no legislature, no independent media, and no independent nongovernmental organizations since 2001. Religious freedom remains severely curtailed.”

From Islington a couple of buses took me to the Home Office, where SOAS Detainee Support had called an emergency demonstration after another death in an immigration detention centre. The death of a Chinese man in Dungavel immigration detention centre followed the death earlier this month of a Polish man who took his own life in Harmondsworth (now called Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre) after the Home Office refused to release him despite the courts having granted him bail.

There are now too many cases since 2010 in which the government refuses to accept the decisions of the courts, often taking them through needless appeals and failing to take appropriate action even when they finally lose. I don’t think this has ever happened before and shows the current government’s contempt for the law and human rights. Parliament  this week voted against including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit.

People are sent to immigration detention centres without any trial, and are held for indefinite lengths of time, which can be for extended periods – Mabel Gawanas was sent to Yarl’s Wood on May 12th 2014 and only released on bail on May 10th 2017, a few days short of 3 years later. Conditions in a Yarls Wood led to it being described as a ‘place of national concern’ by HM Inspectorate of Prisons in 2015, though perhaps national shame would be a more accurate term.

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley was among the speakers at the protest, called at short notice after the news of the death broke.

Free forgotten jailed Eritrean Journalists
No More Deaths in immigration detention


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