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Eritrea must free political prisoners and low-risk offenders to reduce COVID-19 threat in crowded jails, says UN expert

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GENEVA (2 April 2020) – A UN rights expert has urged Eritrea to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in its overcrowded jails by immediately releasing all political prisoners, low-risk offenders and others such as the sick and elderly who are particularly vulnerable to illness or death.

Daniela Kravetz, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, highlighted the case of an American-Eritrean dual national and daughter of a former information minister being held for more than seven years since she was a teenager.

“This Friday, Ciham Ali Abdu is celebrating her 23rd birthday in an Eritrean prison. Ciham has been in incommunicado detention, without charge, since the age of 15. She was arrested in December 2012 as she tried to flee the country into Sudan, shortly after her father requested asylum in a third country. Since her arrest, her family has received no information about her whereabouts,” Kravetz said.

She said that repeated appeals for Ciham’s release had been ignored by the Eritrean authorities.

“I call on the Eritrean authorities to immediately and unconditionally release those detained without legal basis, including all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and to adopt urgent measures to reduce the number of people in detention to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“Eritrea has recently confirmed 18 cases of COVID-19 and has put in place measures to control the spread of the disease, including a 21-day lockdown, describing the situation as very grave. The pandemic could have devastating consequences for the prison population in Eritrea due to the fragile healthcare services, unhygienic conditions, and overcrowding,” Kravetz said.

“Over the years, many have died in Eritrean prisons due to malnutrition, lack of basic healthcare and ill-treatment. Essential medical care services are often unavailable for detainees.”

She said that some of the many political prisoners and prisoners of conscience being held in Eritrea had been behind bars for decades because of their political views or their faith. In 2019 alone, more than 200 individuals were imprisoned because of their faith.

“I also call upon the Eritrean authorities to respect the rule of law and protect human rights in the implementation of their measures to respond to the outbreak of COVID-19,” the UN Special Rapporteur said

ENDS

Ms. Daniela Kravetz (Chile) was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea by the Human Rights Council in October 2018. She is an attorney with extensive experience in human rights, accountability, gender-based violence and access to justice in conflict and post-conflict settings. Her experience covers countries in Latin America, Africa, and the former Yugoslavia.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Dieudonne Munyinga at: dmunyinga@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Xabier Celaya at: xcelaya@ohchr.org

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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