Pour des informations en français, lire également notre chronique Monde sur l’Erythrée.
Eritrea is one of the world’s youngest countries and has rapidly become one of the most repressive. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of movement, no freedom of worship, and much of the adult male and female population is conscripted into indefinite national service where they receive a token wage. Dissent is not tolerated. Any criticism or questioning of government policy is ruthlessly punished. Detention, torture, and forced labor await anyone who disagrees with the government, anyone who attempts to avoid military service or flee the country without permission, and anyone found practicing or suspected of practicing faiths the government does not sanction. A scholar, friend to and close observer of Eritrea over many years said, “Eritrea is now a very grim place. This is a government that doesn’t trust anybody, least of all its own people.”
Some of the roots of this human rights catastrophe are to be found in the strict discipline of the independence struggle, Eritrea’s fragile regional security situation, and the government’s paranoid and totalitarian response to the situation. The government of Eritrea claims that Eritrea is a victim of international interference and that this explains the suspension of human rights and democratic procedures and the mass militarization of society. In reality most observers think this is President Isayas’s justification for a mode of governance characterized by mistrust, brutality, and presidential whim, in other words, a dictatorship based on denial of basic human rights. Dan Connell, a former supporter of the EPLF, noted, “With no public space for political discussion, let alone protest, and severe constraints on the organizational expression of the most benign social or economic interests—that is, the blanket suppression of civil society—the possibility to contest the PFDJ’s grip on power is nonexistent.”
Eritrea routinely arbitrarily detains people who criticize the president, the government, and the military, those who try and evade national service or desert from the army, and those who practice or are perceived to be members of unregistered Christian religions. Once arrested, many detainees “disappear”—their families are unable to ascertain their whereabouts and are only occasionally informed if the individuals die in custody.
Deserting from the army or even expressing dissent over the indefinite military service is viewed as a political issue by the government. Therefore, most prisoners held for political reasons are detained without charge or trial for refusing or questioning national service or for offences punishable under military law. Even where detainees may have committed a potential crime under military law, numerous former detainees told Human Rights Watch that there was no system of military justice, that they were simply imprisoned on the orders of their commanders without any courts-martial or other procedure.