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Eritrea Reportedly Detains Relatives Of Military Service Evaders

Amnesty International is accusing the Eritrean government of arresting several hundred relatives of people who have evaded or deserted military service. Amnesty says they are being held incommunicado in harsh conditions. The government, in the past, has denied any human rights violations.

Martin Hill is a researcher for the human rights group. From London, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the group’s concerns in Eritrea. He says, “For some years now, we’ve been following the cases of those conscripts who’ve been fleeing the country and seeking asylum abroad. But now we are concerned about the reports that relatives of people who have fled or evaded conscription are now being arrested in connection with their flight and are now being imprisoned.”

Asked why the Eritrean government would make such arrests, he says, “It appears that there is a government campaign to prevent this opposition to conscription and also to press those who have fled to return. And in fact to punish their whole families.”

It appears most of those who have fled the country have gone through Sudan and have either stayed there or gone to Europe trying to seek asylum. Amnesty says officials offered to release the relatives on bail of between $660 and $3,300, “if they guaranteed they would produce their missing relative.”

Mr. Hill calls the situation “very strange” and questions the legality of such moves. He says, “People are supposed to be brought to court within 48 hours and then held under a recognized criminal charge.” He says Amnesty International has been unsuccessful in getting the Eritrean government to respond to these and other allegations of human rights abuses, including the detention of dissidents and journalists and religious persecution.

Mr. Hill says Amnesty would like to send its staff to the country to question those who say their rights have been violated. The government has denied any human rights violations.