Photo: Screenshot of a video depicting the demonstration and shooting at the Al Diaa Islamic School in Asmara, Eritrea, October 2017. Source: HRW | 2017 Private. - Photo: 2017

Opposition Calls for International Solidarity with Eritrea After Rare Protest

By Wim Brummelman

Note: This report, based on an interview with a representative of the opposition Freedom Friday (‘Arbi Harnet’) in Asmara, Eritrea, was first published in the Dutch newspaper NRC on 7 November 2017. Following is its unofficial translation by Klara Smits. – The Editor.

AMSTERDAM (IDN-INPS | NRC) – The banned Eritrean opposition is asking the international community to pay attention to the continuing repression in Eritrea. “Foreign countries must send observers to find out what is happening here,” said an opposition member speaking over the phone from the Eritrea’s capital city Asmara.

This most recent plea for help follows the crackdown of security troops in Asmara, during the protest against the plans of the government to restrict Islamic, Catholic and other private schools. When a group of about a hundred protesters, mainly students, gathered close to the government centre on October 31, the crowd was dispersed with batons. Gunshots were heard and an unknown number of people were arrested. The U.S. embassy warned that protests, including those peaceful in nature, could easily escalate into violence.

According to the researchers of the UN, human rights in Eritrea are routinely violated. Overt protests in the streets of Asmara are a rarity and therefore, the recent protest attracted attention, especially among the opposition activists in the diaspora. Protests have been held at Eritrean diplomatic representations in various European and North American cities: Stockholm, London, Bergen (Norway), The Hague, Paris, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Berlin, Melbourne, Rome, Washington DC, and New York

Due to the secretive nature of Eritrea, it is difficult to get a clear and reliable picture of what has taken place in Asmara. One of the opposition groups, the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organisation (RSADO), reported that 28 people had died in the protest. However, a commentary of researcher Felix Horne from Human Rights Watch points out that RSADO is financed by Ethiopia, the arch enemy of Eritrea, and that its information cannot be qualified as reliable. Ethiopia benefits from stirring unrest in the neighbouring country.

The opposition member in Asmara, who is a member of the network of Arbi Harnet (Freedom Friday) that was founded in the U.S. six years ago, says that violence was used and that people have been arrested. However, he stresses that no protesters have been killed. The most remarkable thing was: “They were not shooting at people. They refused to do that,” he says.

Three years ago, the Eritrean Ministry of Education revealed the plan to reform all schools into public schools. The recent unrest centred around the Al Diaa Islamic School in the neighbourhood of Akhriya. Honorary chairman Muasa Mohamed Nur had passionately spoken out earlier against the forced secularisation of the school, and he and other leaders were arrested last month. One of Nur’s brothers, co-founder of the Eritrean Liberation Front, died in prison in 2008. It were the students of the Al Diaa school that first took to the streets.

However, it is not just Muslims, but also Christians that participated in the protest. “Muslims and Christians are united. They want the government to stop meddling in their education. That is why people took to the streets,” according to the spokesperson in Asmara, who himself is not a Muslim.

And, he added, it is not just about the restriction of religious freedom. “This regime restricts all possible freedom of its citizens. That is why so many people flee Eritrea. This has to stop. That is why we pray for this government to disappear.”

The unrest seems to have died down. However, the resistance will continue, the source in Asmara states. “Of course I am afraid. So many people are afraid. We are under great risk. However, new protests will emerge. Maybe they will be small in the beginning, in different places. And maybe they will grow into something big. That is why it is so important for the world to know what is going on here.”

In an attempt to explain what was happening the chair of the school in Akhriya Eritrea, Hajji Musa Mohammed Nur said: “…this school is ours, even now, whatever its shortcomings, […] suggestions that are not compatible with our views will not have acceptance. And because we have full rights, there is nothing that should frighten or scare us.

He pointed out that the Aldia school has 2,800 students, male and female. “The parents of these students, male and female, are 5,600. Thus, taken together, it approaches 10,000. Why would you embitter and anger such [a large number of] people?”

The Aldia school chair asserted that the school was built with the money of the people. “Thus, it is our money, our labor […] We have sacrificed plenty in the past to leave this legacy for our children. We have spoken with judges; we have even spoken with the ministry. None can tell Aldia School change this.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 8 November 2017]

Photo: Screenshot of a video depicting the demonstration and shooting at the Al Diaa Islamic School in Asmara, Eritrea, October 2017. Source: HRW | 2017 Private.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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