Today marks the sixteen-year anniversary of the crackdown on dissent in Eritrea, in which twelve journalists were arrested for their free expression work. Sixteen years later the whereabouts of the detained journalists remains unknown and freedom of expression continues to be severely repressed.
To mark the anniversary, English PEN is proud to publish ‘Eritrea: a muzzled state’, a report by Eyob Teklay Ghilazghy, secretary of PEN Eritrea and our former writer-in-residence in partnership with ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Free Word and PEN International. The report offers a chilling insight into the situation on the ground in Eritrea and urges the international community to come together in order to implement real change.
Meanwhile Eritrean writers – Idris Said Aba Arre, Medhanie Haile, Seyoum Tsehaye, Amanuel Asrat, and Dawit Isaak – will also be featured as Empty Chairs during the Writers in Prison Committee meeting at PEN International’s 83rd annual Congress in Lviv, Ukraine, which brings together over 200 PEN members from across the globe. Each year, PEN International selects individual imprisoned writers whose cases are emblematic of the dangers faced by their colleagues around the world. These writers are represented by an ‘empty chair’ which acts as a reminder of the writers’ absence and separation from their colleagues.
Eritrea: A Muzzled State
The current situation in Eritrea is the result of a long systematic process and strategy which the Eritrean revolution and government have effectively and successfully implemented for decades.
Since its secession from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has been ruled by a dictatorial regime with no constitution, national assembly or elections. Senior party and government officials who demanded democratic reform in 2001 are languishing in secret prison cells, alongside journalists, without charge or trial.
The Eritrean population has been subject to grave human rights violations, resulting in the total devastation of all aspects of life in the country and causing humanitarian crises within and beyond the borders of Eritrea. Neighbouring countries and those further afield are flooded with Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers fleeing the country.
Eritrea is one of the least free countries in the world in terms of freedom of expression. In the 2017 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters without Borders, Eritrea was ranked 179th of 180 countries. Even state-supported journalists and artists are being subjected to intimidation, harassment, detention and torture.
Meanwhile, the regime’s spies closely monitor the exchange of information and communications. Any opinion, views, narratives and conversations that deviate from the government narrative can lead to the arrest, detention and torture of those involved. The government’s activities of surveillance, monitoring, threats and reprisals with the aim of silencing people of opposing views is not limited to people inside the country.
Human rights organisations have to work together to influence global and regional policies and approaches towards the Eritrean regime with the aim of holding the current government accountable for the crimes it has committed against humanity.
Protest at the Eritrean Embassy
English PEN will be joining colleagues from One Day Seyoum for a protest outside the Embassy of Eritrea in London between 15.30 – 17.30 this Thursday 21 September. Please join us – whether for five minutes or the full two hours – at 96 White Lion Street, N1 9PF London, United Kingdom.