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RSF urges European Union to shake off lethargy after seven years of silence since September 2001 crackdown

(RSF/IFEX) - On the seventh anniversary of the start of a wave of round-ups on 18 September 2001, Reporters Without Borders appeals to each of the European Union's 27 members to publicly endorse the organisation's call for the most senior members of the Eritrean government and military to be declared personae non gratae.

"As a result of indifference or weakness, Europe's diplomats still do not seem to have appreciated the impact this initiative could have," Reporters Without Borders said. "Without threatening the aid that is vital for the Eritrean population, it would sever the government's key link with the large diaspora in Europe and would protect political refugees from the surveillance and threats to which they are exposed."

The organisation added: "It would also send a strong signal to the civilian and military leaders in Asmara that the criminal silence surrounding the political prisoners, including the dozen or so journalists held incommunicado since September 2001, is no longer acceptable."

Unlike Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, Belarusian President Alexander Lukachenko and others, Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki, his cabinet ministers and senior military officers are free to travel anywhere in the European Union. A visa ban can only be decided by the European Council. Until now, none of the EU's 27 member countries has agreed to ask the EU presidency to put it on the agenda.

On 18 September 2001, President Issaias and his hardline allies in the armed forces and the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice, the country's only political party, ordered the arrests of some 15 leading personalities who had publicly called for democratic reforms. Around a dozen journalists whose publications had reported their appeal were also thrown in prison.

The least expression of criticism or the least suspicion has since then resulted in indefinite imprisonment in one of the many detention centres scattered around the country.

None of the detainees is allowed to have contact with their family or a lawyer. Publicly accused on several occasions of being "threats to national security," they have never been tried and never been able to defend themselves. At least four of the journalists have died in detention, probably in the Eiraeiro high-security camp in the northeast of the country.

Reporters Without Borders participated in a public hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on 18 September about the strategy the EU should adopt towards the human rights crisis in Eritrea.

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