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The BBC Complaints

From: UK based Eritrean groups for Justice, peace and human right

Date: 02 June 2016

Subject: The misleading and biased portrayal of a brutal dictatorship by a BBC correspondent.  

Inside Eritrea: Bras, biros and backward shoes in war exhibit 

The BBC's Africa Editor, Mary Harper, has gained rare access to Eritrea, and visited an exhibition about the war. A number of BBC outlets – television, radio and online – carried her reports.

“The trip of the torch, the festival, the parade, the carnival simply a genius creative plan that allowed the public to take ownership of the gallant history and the 25th Jubilee celebration; the activities made Hafash relive the day the motherland was liberated. 

Contrary to what Mary Harper reported the people of Eritrea have no ownership of their history.  They are robbed of their history by repressive regime.  Their lives are now completely controlled and militarized. Even people over 60 years are forced to carry guns.

Dozens of kids die as boat tragedies claim up to 700 lives I saw my mother and 11-year old
sister die," Kidane from Eritrea, 13, told the aid organizations. "There were bodies everywhere."

During the long 30 years of struggle for independence there was a collective leadership in the form of a Central committee and political bureau of EPLF.  After independence, in May 24, 1991, a provisional Eritrean Government was declared and Isaias Afeworki became the president. This was an interim arrangement pending the formation of a state with a constitution, a multi-party system, an independent judiciary and a free press. This would allow a democratic process of state building that would culminate in country-wide elections.   This is to implement what is written in the PFDJ manifesto.   It is what the Eritrean people fought for, longed for and expected to take place. 

In 1998 a senseless border war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  After the cease-fire in July 2000, some members of the regime in their meetings raised the issue of holding a PFDJ congress and all out elections which were long overdue. President Isaias used the war as a pretext for not to take any action but agreed to set in motion the process of building a democratic state. That means PFDJ Congress would take place in February 2001. By-laws governing the formations of political parties was to be drafted by a committee under the chairmanship of Mahmood Sheriff –the vice president.  It will clear the way for the establishment of multi parties in order to participate in the country wide election to take place at the end of 2001.   However, on 18/09/2001 president Isaias Afeworki by arresting 11 members of the Government has prevented the agreed plan of nation building.  At the same time he imprisoned all editors of the private newspapers and brought freedom of expression to an end. 

Furthermore the president unleashed the harshest repression that instilled fear on the entire population against anyone suspected of harbouring democratic values. Even religious leaders such as the patriarch of the Orthodox Church were not spared. Any hope of any election and the building of accountable government is doomed. 

The imprisonment by surprise of these top government officials gave Isaias Afeworki a huge amount of coercive power –to declare unilaterally the indefinite national service/slave labour that gave rise to the influx of huge number of the youth to exile. The youth including children have no choice other than to take dangerous life threatening journey to safe countries.

Referring to Eritreans leaving the country in their thousands to seek asylum, Mary Harper said it is for choice of opportunity and not of fear.  Even if it is for choice of opportunity her statement is disturbing.  The testimony of many youths who fled the country and  got asylum tell their experience of torture , rape and other inhuman forms of brutality during their indefinite  military service/slave labour   is adequately documented.   If such treatment and abuse does not unleash fear what else can?  More than 10,000 prisoners of conscience languishing in prison   are denied any recourse to any due legal process. Obviously that induces fear to the rest of the population. Fear factor has cowed the population inside and rendered them voiceless.  That is why the fundamental objective of the Eritrean Diaspora justice Seekers is “to be the voice of the voiceless

In preparation of the 25 year anniversary of independence, Mary Harper was apparently unaware of the hundreds of youth who had been rounded up and taken to military camps as part of the PFDJ’s   manoeuvre not to risk having national service youth in big number.   Many shop keepers are also furious at being forced to contribute to the expenses of the festival including    the importing of expensive fireworks.

The lavish anniversary took place against the background of 10,000 prisoners of conscience. The closure of the only university. All higher studies starting from 12th grade (school leaving period) are taken in Sawa military camp to make sure there is no academic freedom and therefore no voice for justice from students.  The EU has granted 200 million Euro to help the Eritrean Government to stem the flow of refugees.  The president will not stop the indefinite national service for him it is suicidal.  The ulterior motive of indefinite service is purely to control the youth and prevent them to engage in protests and demonstrations that would inspire the entire population to stage all out demonstration which would end the reign of terror.

Mary Harper reflected none of this in her coverage. She created a false reality.  It is within this context that the anniversary should be assessed.   The lavish military parade that took 2 months to prepare was to serve as a piece of propaganda akin to the parade in North Korea while Eritrea is reduced to one of the poorest countries in the world.  But that does not mean the celebration should not take place. It should take place because it is the result of the sacrifices of the Eritrean people “The makers of history” but ultimately betrayed by the regime. It was also celebrated by all the opposition groups all over the world with heavy heart, seminars and presentation of research papers that highlights the nature of the oppression.   

Mary’s report gives the impression of painting a humane face to the brutal regime. Therefore we the undersigned appeal that the BBC refrain from this false advocacy on behalf of the dictatorial regime in Eritrea.

Yours Sincerely

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea

Network of Eritrean Women (NEW)

Eritrean Movement for democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)

Eritrean Solidarity Movement for National Salvation (ESMNS)

Eritreans for Unity and Justice (EUJ)

Eritreans Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP)