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An Alarming Trend in Eritrea: Elderly and Child Prisoners

Here in Eritrea, things are going from bad to worse; and it is something that no longer requires complicated evidencing. Evidence on the ground attests to the awful reality all by itself. In fact, much of what happens is left untold because it simply beggars belief and only the poor mothers of victims will know the full extent.

Atrocities inside Eritrean prisons continue unabated; PFDJ officials actually believe that all this can be hidden from the people and hence act with little or no fear of accountability now or in the future. Often, what the outside world hears is about the detention of the youth, for reasons that has to do with the national service.  While this still holds true, what hasn’t been so apparent to the outside world is that the most disturbing development in the prison system in Eritrea has to do with elderly and child prisoners, and in most cases for no apparent reason.

Elderly prisoners

The phenomenon of holding someone in prison as a favor, on the request of another official (without any due processes whatsoever), is leading to countless prisoners who languish in jails without even the prison administration’s knowledge of what their crime is supposed to be.  Although this phenomena isn’t new in the Eritrea (known as “atsnehaley”), the profile of such prisoners is changing.

Today many elderly mothers find themselves in prison, where an official has left them in the custody of a prison officer as a personal favor. Similarly, many elderly gentlemen (many old enough to be grandfathers) also find themselves locked away in container cells for acts that no one except the official asking for their imprisonment knows.

People in prison under these circumstances are not even registered under the prison systems and hence they remain untraceable to even family members, should either the official who arrested them or the one who is keeping them under his prison roof get transferred or leave the country. These people could be there indefinitely; it is possible some will not survive the ordeal.

Child prisoners

The other and perhaps extremely disturbing trend is the prevalence of child prisoners in prisons across the country. These children who should be living with their families and enjoying their childhood are suffering the most horrendous ordeals as prisoners endangering their well being or even their lives.

Prominent amongst PFDJ officials who frequents such practices is Brigadier General Tesfalidet Habtesilassie. The General is said to have ordered the prison administrations involved to not accept any inquiries on behalf of these children, who are being put under immense emotional pressure, which many observers fear will most definitely result in long term mental health problems.

Among these children is Ciham Ali Abdu, the 16 year old daughter of the former Information Minister Ali Abdu, who defected and sought asylum. Despite the fact that Ciham is in fact American citizen, CIham has been denied all her rights as a child. Unlike the Swedish Government in the case of Dawit Isaac, the American Administration doesn’t seem to be advocating on behalf of Ciham

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