Asmarino Fundraising: Because There Is So Much More to Be Done!

Eritrea 20 years after Independence

Press Release

(For immediate release)

May 20, 2011 - Winnipeg MB.

 

On Behalf of

Eritrean Canadian Human rights group

And

Eritrean Canadians in Manitoba

 Ghirmay S. Yeibio

 “A slender land, a giant prison state" (Human rights watch)

   

Eritrea 20 years after Independence

(1991 -2011)

 

 

Exactly 20 years ago, on May 24, 1991 the Eritrean peoples Liberation Front - EPLF fighters entered Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea.  It was the culmination of a 30 year struggle for independence from Ethiopia.

Eritrea is a country in Northeast Africa. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. The east and northeast of the country have a 1000 km of coastline on the Red Sea, directly across from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Its size is just under 118,000 km² (about one fifth of the size of Manitoba) with an estimated population of 4,000,000.

 The birth of Eritrea as a nation is the result of Italian colonization in 1890 which gave the nation its present day boundaries. During the II World War the British defeated the Italian army in Eritrea in 1941 and administered it until 1952 until Allied forces could determine its fate.  The UN General Assembly resolution 390A(V) of September 15, 1952, called for Eritrea and Ethiopia to be linked through a loose federal structure under the sovereignty of the then Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie (1930 -1974).

As a result of exposure to Italian and British methods of governance and political life, Eritreans had developed a distinct sense of cultural identity and superiority vis-à-vis Ethiopians. From the start of the federation, however, Emperor Haile Selassie began to gradually erode Eritrea’s independent status. He made Amharic the official language in place of Tigrinya and Arabic, terminated the use of the Eritrean flag, and finally in 1962 pressured the Eritrean Assembly to abolish the federation and incorporated Eritrea as the 14th province of Ethiopia.

This was the reason why tiny Eritrea launched a 30 year war of independence on 1st of September, 1961, against it’s giant foe Ethiopia, and achieved an incredible military victory against all odds on May 24, 1991.  The EPLF established the Provisional Government of Eritrea with its leader Isayas Afeworki as the head of state.

In 1993, in a referendum supported by Ethiopia, and supervised by the UN, Eritreans voted almost unanimously for independence, leaving Ethiopia landlocked, and thus present day Eritrea took its place amongst the family of independent nations.  

When the Eritrean nation declared independence on May 1993, it was heralded as the beginning of an African renaissance but what followed since has been decades of war, famine, drought, and political repression. To the dismay of many this great experiment in African democracy is dead and buried. Eritreans were in for a rude surprise.

Isayas Afeworki, from day one began to consolidate his power and to systematically dismantle the fabric of the Eritrean society and trash the dreams of its people.  He continued to develop a police state which gradually evolved into a slave state, where most of Eritrea’s population is a forced conscript. 

At the inception, President Isayas was revered by all Eritreans as a hero who successfully led a liberation front to victory.  Eritreans of all walks of life without question gave him and his government a blank check to lead the nation without any checks and balances in place.  This created conducive climate enabling the President and his cliques to consolidate their grip on power and evolve to one of the most repressive dictators that the world has ever seen. 

By 1994 the onslaught on human rights and individual liberties began in earnest in the form of a presidential decree. A   presidential statement was issued on 25th October 1994 stating that the Jehovah’s Witnesses had revoked their citizenship by not participating in the national referendum and not participating in military service. He therefore decreed that Jehovah’s Witnesses were not allowed to work in any government offices; he revoked their business licenses and rescinded their identity cards and travel documents. 

This was followed in 1995 by the enslavement of the people through the National Service Program.  Since 1995 hundreds of thousands of Eritrean Youth have been drafted never to be demobilized and serve the government without pay or compensation.  Like all the laws of the nation the National Service was implemented as a decree from the president’s office.  The youth of Eritrea is spending its golden years in the trenches and in back breaking labor for the last 16 years.  Young men and women who were drafted when they were 18 at the time are now over 30 years of age.  Unmarried, uneducated they are wasting as serfs. 

In May 1998 The President led the nation in a disastrous war against Ethiopia over a dusty village called Badme.  After 3 years of war the Eritrean Army suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of Ethiopia, lost 20,000 soldiers and a quarter of its area.  As a result the Eritrean Economy, Manpower and Pride sustained an irreparable damage from which it has never recovered.

As an aftermath of the devastating defeat and loss, Eritreans began questioning the leadership of their president.  On May 15, 2001, his closest aide’s (15 high ranking military and civil officials who were so far loyal to him known as the G-15) issued an open letter criticizing the President’s action as Illegal and demanded that he convene the ruling party’s governing body.  The independent press echoed the calls of the G-15 and voiced the need for democratization.

It was then that the President’s brutal nature came to full exposure.  While the world was engrossed by the attacks of 9/11 in the USA, the President moved swiftly and viciously in rounding up all opponents and critics including the signatories of the G-15 petition and member’s of the private press.   To date, nobody knows about the fate of the prisoners and their whereabouts.  They are held incommunicado and without charge.  No visit is allowed by family members and nobody for sure knows how many of them are still alive.

In 2002 President Isayas unleashed another wave of persecution against all evangelical Christians.  Historically rooted in Marxist ideology, the government believes that evangelicals are unpatriotic, foreign, imperialist lackeys that disrupt national unity.  Moreover, the president true to the characteristics of all dictators considers each and every Eritrean to be his personal property and cannot tolerate anyone who considers their highest allegiance to God. 

Thus, in May 2002 all Pentecostal and Charismatic congregations, Adventists, Presbyterians, Assemblies of God, Mennonite and Methodist linked churches were ordered to be closed.  All members of the churches were forbidden from worshiping even in the privacy of their homes.  Possession of a Bible and prayer meetings became a crime punishable by imprisonment. 

Currently there are upwards of 3000 Christians under arrest for their faith, their only crime being praying, reading the bible or worshipping the lord Jesus.  Through a systematic interrogation and torture many are ordered to sign documents renouncing their faith or risk being indefinitely locked up in metal shipping containers.

His Holiness Abune Antonios, Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox church, who had apparently opposed government interference in church affairs, was reportedly stripped of his authority by the government and was put under house arrest in August 2005.  The Eritrean patriarch who was born on 12 July 1927 (now aged 84) is being held incommunicado and reportedly suffering from diabetes without access to adequate medical treatment.

 

Containers like these are used as prisons

Eritrea has countless and mysterious national network of jails in every corner of the nation run by generals and army commanders. It has more prisons than schools and are ever growing in number and kind every day.  The total number of prisons is a mystery with some known some unknown, some authorized and other not.  Crowded underground cells where prisoners hardly ever see daylight, make-shift prisons throughout the country, mostly secret with access prohibited.  Dahlak Island in the midst of the Red is used as prison too.  Condition of this prison is very bitter.  It is a very hot and inhospitable place with the temperature ranging from 35 – 45 degree centigrade.  

 

The violence, torture, horror, and untold crimes that go on in these prisons have no comparison.  International human rights organizations have documented and reported various forms of horrendous torture methods employed by the regime like the “Otto”(Italian for eight), “Jesus Christ”, “Ferro” (Italian for iron) including widespread rape of young female prisoners. The Eritrea government has developed torture and degrading methods that even the Nazis would be envious of.       

The massive human rights abuse and indefinite national slavery triggered a mass exodus of Eritreans fleeing persecution.  These new post independence asylum seekers are mostly youngsters who dared to risk the unknown to escape a nation of stolen youth, camouflaged slavery and a land of one vast military camp celebrating death.

Since 2006 parents of these asylum seekers have been arrested and held incommunicado in harsh conditions.  The arrest includes of elderly people, the infirm and blind.   Upward of 3000 parents are in prison currently. 

Tens of thousands of refugees have poured across the border to Ethiopia and the Sudan. Some with the hope of reaching Europe in search of a safe haven continued onwards to cross on foot and by car across the Sudan and the Sahara desert.  Thousands died of thirst, hunger, heat stroke and sheer exhaustion in the middle of nowhere.  Some are swallowed up in the quick sands of the desert. 

Those who manage to survive the long trek and arrived in Tripoli and Benghazi embark to cross the Mediterranean Sea on board ill fitted small fishing boats.  Some make it, some drown when the boats capsize in the ever turbulent sea of the Mediterranean, and their bodies are either washed ashore or hauled by local fishermen. Some are never found, their silent corps lying deep in the sea with their stories untold and buried without ceremony in the womb of the ocean along with their dreams.

In March 2009 three boats each carrying 250 to 365 immigrants capsized only 21 survivors have been found.  80 % of the immigrants were Eritreans. This tragedy was reported by the international media as “Illegal immigrants feared dead after boat capsized “. 

On the 20 of August, 2009 a 12 meter boat was spotted by a plane 19 miles off the Italian Island of Lampedusa.  On board were five emaciated Eritreans consisting of two men, a woman and two teenage boys, they were the only survivors of a group of 80 Eritrean would be migrants who left Libya around the end of July 2009.  The Five survivors were dehydrated and were little more than skeletons when they were rescued.  The other 75 succumbed to hunger or thirst and perished in the Mediterranean Sea.

It’s a heart wrenching and shocking tragedy, a shame to the civilized world that 80 immigrants were adrift in the door steps of Europe for 20 days and have been deliberately left to die in the sea without a single boat stopping to help them.  In March 2011, another 335 Eritreans perished in the Mediterranean Sea while attempting to reach safe shores of Europe from Libya. 

These are only a few of the reported ones.  Thousand have perished without anyone telling their stories.  For the world they are just some “illegal immigrants”, but for their families they are beloved sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters.  Somewhere a mother cries for her lost son, a wife wails for the death of her husband, a child longs for his father and wonders where he is.

The government of Isayas Afeworki is also the god father of Islamist fundamentalist in the horn of Africa and the Middle East.  Eritrea is a safe haven for known terrorists of the region who have confirmed links to Al Qaeda.  One of them is Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys who in the 1990s headed the Al-Itihaad Al-Islamiya, an organization funded by Osama Bin Landen which was linked to the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Sheikh Aweys who is also on the terrorist list of the USA took refuge in Eritrea for two years after the Islamic Courts Union was defeated by Ethiopia.  Aweys has recently returned to Somalia to lead the Hisbul Islam militant organization.

The Eritrean government also arms and trains the Al Shabaab and Hisbul Islam militant organizations by airlifting plane loads of surface-to-air missiles, assault rifles, antitank weapons and other arms to Somalia. On May 16, 2009 the UN Security Council has voiced concern expressing its concern over reports that Eritrea has supplied arms to those opposing the government of Somalia in breach of the UN arms embargo.

The Eritrean dictatorship has also drawn the wrath of America by backing extremist Islamic groups in Somalia.  Isayas told the Daily Telegraph of the UK in April 2009 that he would continue to oppose an American and British-backed Somalian government that declared Al-Shabab its principal enemy.

Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) has also implicated Eritrea among the countries through which weapons were being smuggled into Gaza to be used against Israel. In March 2009, according to Aljezeera reports Israeli jets bombed weapons convoys heading through Sudan on their way to Egypt, where they would have been taken across the Sinai into the Gaza Strip. There are reports that the convoy originated from Eritrea. 

Eritrea has evolved to a rogue state by focusing its relations on countries like Iran, Libya and the Sudan.  According to Eritrean opposition websites Iranian ships and submarines were deployed at the Eritrean port town of Assab at the Horn of Africa. This would enable Iran to station its troops and maintain a strong military presence with full command of the Straits of the Bab El Mandab, the strait connecting the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea one of the busiest shipping lanes of the world.

Eritrean President Isayas Afeworki With Iranian Leader

Media reports from Sri Lanka have also appeared linking the Eritrean government with the Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam (LTTE). 

On August 8, the Taipei Times and on August 26, the Voice of Tamil have reported that the Sri Lankan authorities arrested Selvarajah Pathmanathan, the man who ran the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) lucrative arms and smuggling operations for decades, and that they were interrogating the new head of the Tamil Tigers, their most wanted target since crushing the separatist rebels in May. 

During their interrogation, Selvarajah Pathmanathan (better known by his nickname KP) who is also wanted on two Interpol warrants, has revealed that the LTTE has hidden 12 fighter planes belonging to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at an airport located in Eritrea with the help of the Eritrean government.  These Czech built Zlin Z-143 single engine, light aircraft modified to be fighter planes in Eritrea were purchased using End User Certificates provided by the Eritrean government and transported to the port city of Massawa, in Eritrea to be utilized by the LTTE for future assault. 

Furthermore, Eritrean end user certificates have been used to purchase guns and a range of other weapons and armaments for LTTE and other terrorist organizations.

The government's systematic human rights violations have caused most traditional donors to shy away from providing humanitarian and economic aid to the nation. Eritrea has become a non-option for almost all potential donors.   20 years after independence Eritreans have been reduced to beggars and refugees in the hands of the very government they trusted. 

Fund raising operations from Diaspora Eritreans is a crucial source of revenue for the Eritrean government. The government expects all Eritreans in the Diaspora to pay a two percent tax on their income. If Eritrean expatriates do not pay the two percent tax, the government punishes family members in Eritrea by detaining them, and denying them the right to do business by revoking licenses or confiscating farm land. The coercive expatriate fund raising operation is also used to consolidate its control. 

The remittances have also enabled the government to remain in power despite the dilapidated state of the economy.  The primary duty of all Eritrean embassies is to coerce, harass, spy on and control the Diaspora.  Through Satellite so called “community organizations” the Eritrean government collects funds and controls the Diaspora. 

The use of festivals and seminars as a primary source of fund raising venue predates the independence of Eritrea.  The Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF), held a number of festivals and events in Europe, many of them taking place on holidays such as Christmas, Easter, New Year, the start of the armed struggle and other important dates in the calendar of the struggle for independence.  The most important festival was organized every year in Italy. In the 1980s, the city of Bologna in Italy became a meeting point for Eritreans from all over Europe. On that occasion all European mass organizations of the EPLF the “National Union of Eritrean Workers” (NUEW), the “National Union of Eritrean women” (NUEWN) and the “National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students” (NUEYS). These organizations were, as a part of the liberation movement also active in Eritrea. At the festivals, the political part of the event was accompanied by a cultural program which included the selling of traditional Eritrean food, music shows and plays. Of course the festivals also afforded the opportunity for large scale collection campaigns. At the end of the 80th, the Bologna Palazzo Del Congresso with 3000 seats where the festival was held had become too small and festivals were moved to the big sports auditorium in Bologna. After independence the Annual Eritrean Festival began to be conducted in Asmara in the Capital City of Eritrea.  Eritreans in the Diaspora continued to organize their own Festivals annually through community organisations in their respective areas.  

The Festivals, seminars and conferences thus conducted through out the world by the Eritrean Diaspora are the primary generators of hard currency for the regime.  Many of those who contribute money in these events do not realize that their contribution would end up in the hands of terrorists. The same is true in the case of the many fund-raising events conducted in the name of various humanitarian causes. The Diaspora blindly trusted the leadership and never posed questions, nor demanded accountability from the government.  They raised funds regularly and sent money to their families and the state.  What is undeniable is that all this money ends up in the coffers of the Eritrean regime.  The Eritrean government in turn spends it in harboring, training, arming, all kinds of terrorists throughout the Horn of Africa region.

The Eritrean regime which is dirt poor and with an acute shortage of hard currency, would have never been able to provide training, shelter, and military assistance to groups like Al Shabab and Hisbul Islam and other terrorists in the horn of Africa, had it not been for the money that keeps flowing from Diaspora Eritreans.

So it is imperative that the Canadian government should target all these fundraising events, and close them down for good.  The Eritrean regime’s supporters that are consciously working against the interests of their host countries should be identified and their activities monitored.  Such so called community organizations should be aware that the funds they raise is also used to terrorize their own people back home and should refrain from being tools to one of the most tyrannical regime in the world. Moreover, they should take note that they are jeopardizing the safety and freedom of the people of their host nations.  

Because the Canadian government has denied entry visas for Eritrean government officials,  the government of Eritrea uses its diplomats or consulate officials or other Eritreans who have dual citizenship (like Sofia Tesfamariam of the USA) to conduct seminars and raise funds. 

The deafening silence by the Canadian press and Canadian government in the face of this calamity is very surprising and hard to believe.  The Canadian government proudly flies its flag in the Eritrean Capital lending legitimacy to a rogue state. Canada allows the government of this brutal, terrorist dictator to maintain an embassy in Ottawa and terrorize and harass Canadians.

The representatives of the government of Eritrea, who are engaged in raising funds for their terrorist activities are living safely right here in Canada.   The least that Canada can do is to close the nominal consular office it maintains in Asmara and expel the Eritrean diplomatic mission from Canada.  Canada should be able to protect its citizens and their families from the threat of the Eritrean government.

Therefore we Eritrean Canadians living in Manitoba and members of the Eritrean Human rights group most humbly request that the Canadian government to,

·        Close the nominal consular office it maintains in Asmara and expel the Eritrean diplomatic mission from Canada, particularly Mr. Semere Gebremariam, Head of Public Affairs in the Eritrean consulate in Toronto for activities incompatible with his diplomatic status.

 

·         Help to protect and ensure the safety of Eritrean Canadian Human rights activists in Winnipeg and their families who have already received threats from the Eritrean government and supporters of the Eritrean government acting on the instructions of the Eritrean Embassy in Canada.

 

·         Make sure that UNSC resolution 1907 is implemented in full in Canada in accordance with Canadian Regulations Implementing the United Nations Resolution on Eritrea SOR/2010-84 April 22, 2010.

 

Ghirmay S. Yeibio

Email:  gyeibio@yahoo.ca

Tel: (204) 943-9925

 

         

 
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