Eritrea remains one of the most repressive countries on earth, but the government of President Isaias Afewerki has attempted to downplay this reality.
No international media are allowed to have a correspondent based inside the country.
But in the run-up to the 25th anniversary in May this year the international media were invited in for carefully staged tours. Eritreans from the diaspora came to join the celebrations.
But the image of a country celebrating its freedom, happy and contented with its government is in sharp contrast to the tens of thousands who flee – only to have to be rescued in the Mediterranean.
Now photographs and film have been smuggled out of Eritrea by the Freedom Friday network, which is encouraging resistance to the regime.
The material portrays a much stacker reality.
They also show underground opposition, with resistance graffiti sprayed on walls – only to be covered up by government agents.
These are translations from Tigrigna, from the top. Most refer to the May celebrations.
- 25 years of suffering and anxiety [from May]
- 25 years – a lot of deceptive words through zero-three (the government’s rumour-mill). Many heroes in prison – we are being wiped out because of the Isaias administration
- The government of Eritrea dwells on past history, while the Europeans discover new technology
- The seas of Libya are filled with Eritrean youth, while the foolish people are laughing and dancing
This writer simply asks: “Isaias please step down”
The video that has been secretly sent out reinforces the message of poverty and repression.
Here are two stills showing undercover police (security agents) stopping and searching cars in Asmara. Freedom Friday’s network says they now routinely do this – looking for resistance material: posters, paint, printing equipment and even arms. They also look for currency.
Here they are waiting to purchase fuel for cooking.
The Freedom Friday activists comment: ‘This was a good day! People were hopeful for getting some lamba [cooking fuel].’
Children are used to stake a family’s place in a queue.
But this is a long, arduous and entirely wasteful process.
No wonder productivity is so low and the economy relies so heavily on the mine at Bisha and the remittances from the diaspora!
Indefinite National Service has left many families desperately poor.
This has been exacerbated by drought and by the change in the currency (the Nakfa) and requirements that withdrawals from bank accounts are severely restricted.
A permanent ‘no-war, no-peace’ confrontation with Ethiopia over their disputed border has only made matters worse.
Little surprise that there is growing discontent and – as the graffiti shows – growing resistance.