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Eritrea condemned for holding 10,000 political prisoners

By BBC
Updated Thu, May 9th 2013 at 00:00 GMT +3

Thousands of political prisoners are being held by Eritrea in "unimaginably atrocious conditions", says Amnesty International, and not one has ever been charged with any crime.

The rights group says at least 10,000 people have been jailed for political reasons since President Isaias Afewerki came to power 20 years ago.

It says torture is widespread in a network of detention centres.

Eritrea has so far not responded to Amnesty's new report.

Some of those imprisoned are journalists or critics of the government, Amnesty says. Others have practised an unregistered religion, or tried to flee the country or avoid conscription into the army.

In most cases, prisoners' families are not informed of their whereabouts, and often never hear from their relative again.

"The government has systematically used arbitrary arrest and detention without charge to crush all opposition, to silence all dissent, and to punish anyone who refuses to comply with the repressive restrictions it places on people's lives," said Claire Beston, Amnesty's Eritrea researcher.

"Twenty years on from the euphoric celebrations of independence, Eritrea is one of the most repressive, secretive and inaccessible countries in the world."

Helicopter position

The facilities used as detention centres include underground cells or shipping containers, Amnesty says.

The group says some prisoners are left for days in what is known as the helicopter position - lying face down with their hands and feet bound together.

It says it has received many reports of deaths in detention resulting from torture, the bad conditions or suicide.

A former detainee held in a detention centre in Barentu told Amnesty:

"The room was about 2.5m by 3m [8 by 10 feet] and we were 33 people. It is very, very hot. The door is closed, the ceiling is low, about 2m. The temperature was about 50C.

"A boy, about 17 years old, was about to die. We were not permitted to speak, but we banged the door. They [the guards] told us they would kill all of us if we did not stop shouting. We couldn't do anything to help him."

Amnesty is calling for all prisoners to be either immediately charged with a recognisable crime or released.

-BBC

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