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Eritrea: elderly school chief dies in custody

Eritrea: UN expert says more arrests, detentions after elderly school chief dies in custody

GENEVA (14 March 2018) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation human of rights in Eritrea has deplored the arbitrary arrest and detention of hundreds people who have challenged the Government’s restrictions at a school, and expressed concerns about continued human rights violations across the country.

Sheila B. Keetharuth told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that security officials have arrested hundreds of people, mainly males, after the death in custody of Haji Musa Mohamednur earlier this month. He was 93.

Mohamednur, former director of the Al Diaa private Islamic school in the Akriya neighbourhood and respected elder in Eritrea, was arrested in October 2017 together with other members of the school’s administrative committee for failing to carry out Government orders. They refused to enforce a ban on the veil or hijab, to stop religious teachings and to introduce co-education.

“Reports reaching me from credible sources point to the arrest of hundreds of people, mainly males, some of them children as young as 13 years, after the burial of Haji Musa,” she said, adding the arrests were continuing.

This was the second round of mass arrests after a similar wave of arrests in October 2017, she said. “In October, armed law enforcement officers violently dispersed the crowd, wielding truncheons and firing shots in the air,” Keetharuth said.

“Over a hundred people were arbitrarily arrested on that day. In the aftermath, more people were arrested from the Akriya neighbourhood, including students of the school. Reports indicate that while some people have been released, an unknown number remain in custody following this first wave of arrests.”

She said the Government tried to portray the resistance by the Al Diaa school leadership as a Muslim conspiracy and uprising. “The indiscriminate mass arrests in October 2017 and during the past week were carried out to quell any kind of protest or resistance in the face of human rights violations,” Keetharuth said.

“The fear to share anything that could be perceived by the Government as criticism, such as details about the arrest and detention of a relative, remains high.”

These latest cases of arbitrary arrests and detention are similar to the practice documented by the 2014-2016 Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, which reported extensively on cases of arbitrary detention, stating that almost all of those arrested are detained in violation of fundamental rules of international law without any form of judicial proceeding and no official information provided to the families of those detained about the fate of their relatives.

The Special Rapporteur said independent observers and researchers continued to be denied access to the country. “There is still no free and independent reporting on the situation by Eritreans from within the country,” she said.

“Sharing information abroad, including short video clips of events as they happen, or suspicion of doing so, can expose a person to arrests and detention. In such circumstances, claims made by the Government regarding their adherence to human rights norms cannot be verified. Sustained scrutiny is critical, given the continuing serious human rights situation.”


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