The telephone, the new weapon of Eritreans in exile



AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

Published — Tuesday 7 May 2013

Last update 7 May 2013 3:50 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

Galvanized by the Arab Spring, Eritreans in exile in Europe are mobilizing against the authoritarian regime of President Issaias Afeworki with a new tool — the humble telephone.
Every week, members of the diaspora make hundreds or even thousands of automated calls to their compatriots in the eastern African nation, chosing their numbers at random and playing them one-minute recorded messages to spread dissent.
“It is time to restore our liberty and dignity,” says one of the messages. In another, the mother of high-profile political prisoner Aster Yohannes recalls the fate of her daughter, who was arrested in 2003 and who has not been heard of since.
Such political statements are rarely heard in Eritrea itself, where opposition parties are banned and anyone who challenges the president — who has ruled the tiny nation with an iron grip since independence in 1993 — is jailed without trial, often in the harshest of conditions.
They are the work of a new generation of exiles who refuse to fall in behind traditional opposition parties, which are widely viewed as unrepresentative and divided, explains Leonard Vincent, a Paris-based specialist on Eritrea.
Unlike those opposition leaders, their passion was forged not in the war of independence but in the conditions forced upon their people today. “Their own war is against the current problems in the Eritrean nation,” Vincent said.
About 1,500 Eritreans leave their country every month, according to the United Nations, paying up to 30,000 euros ($ 39,500) each to seek a new life free of grinding poverty and repression.
Those who make it — refugees are often a target for people traffickers — settle around the world, from Australia to Germany, Britain to the United States, but keep in touch over the Internet.
Their demands are simple — the application of the 1997 constitution which calls for elections in Eritrea, and the release of political prisoners, estimated by the NGO Human Rights Watch to be about between 5,000 and 10,000.
And they have put these demands to the Eritrean people in about 100,000 recorded telephone calls made every Friday since late 2011 — including to some members of the regime.
Ironically, “sometimes it’s actually the people who don’t like what we’re doing that spread the message because they are not afraid,” said Selam Kidane, founder of the ‘Arbi Harnet’ (Free Friday) movement.
The phone calls are a way of spreading dissent without putting those receiving the messages in danger, explains Kidane, a mother-of-three who is now settled in London.
In a country where freedom of expression and the press are virtually non-existent, logging onto a subversive website or tuning into a banned radio station could put their lives at risk.
But the project has involved people who are still in Eritrea. The phone calls have only been made possible, for example, after someone smuggled a telephone directory out of the country.
And a handful of those who remain are promoting the cause at great risk to themselves. “We have a little team inside the country that we have recruited via these calls. They have put up posters with our logo,” Kidane told AFP.
Eritrea specialist Vincent explained that some posters take the form of fake versions of the public notices of deaths that are traditional in Eritrea.
“The photo on the fake death notices is fictitious and the message is subversive, along the lines of ‘Wake up, they have stolen your freedom’,” he explained.
He said the telephone messages are a new challenge to Issaias’ authority, but cautioned that they may have limited impact in a country of five million where “only the old, the young and the slaves” of military service remain.
However, he added that the campaign may prove useful for anyone hoping to challenge the regime from the inside.
An activist who goes by the name of Miriam September was involved in the telephone campaign in its early days. The initiative was inspired by the Arab Spring revolutions, she said, then given new energy after mutinous soldiers briefly seized the information ministry in Asmara in January.
Since then, there has been “an unprecedented energy and momentum” among the diaspora, said September, who lives in Germany.
Donations to the phone call project have increased, according to Kidane, and hundreds of Eritreans have protested in several European capitals, showing their faces for the first time, something they dared not do before.
“Enough is enough. I can’t hide while my people are being killed,” said one Eritrean protester, Mussa Beshir, during a recent demonstration in London.
Vincent said the huge challenge now was how long the exiles can keep up their fight, as Issaias shows little sign of going anywhere.

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: In a fresh boost for relations between Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh, the Kingdom has decided to sign a memorandum of understanding on Foreign Office Consultations (FOC) with Dhaka. The Kingdom endorsed a proposal in this regard at a meeting be...
The Indonesian mission is hopeful detained Indonesian pilgrims will be free “very soon.” The mission is trying to persuade Saudi authorities of their nationals’ innocence.Eleven Indonesian pilgrims, who arrived in the holy city of Makkah to perform U...
JEDDAH: Police at King Khaled International Airport in Riyadh arrested a Saudi hacker after a government organization in Al-Leith in Makkah complained that he had hacked its website, according to an online newspaper.Col. Atti Al-Qurashi, spokesman fo...
JEDDAH: The special criminal court has sentenced a former military official to nine years in jail for joining Daesh and traveling to Syria to fight.A fine of SR5,000 was also slapped on him and he was barred from traveling abroad for nine years after...
JEDDAH: Saudi-Indian ties have reached a new high with the arrival of an Indian Air Force (IAF) flying contingent at the King Fahd Air Base in Taif.The mission, comprising more than 100 high-ranking IAF officers and airmen onboard Sukhoi MKI fighter...
RIYADH: A tripartite agreement among the National Handicraft Program, Prisons Department and the Technical and Vocational Training Corp. (TVTC) was recently signed in the presence of Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tou...
JEDDAH: British authorities have opened investigations into the plane crash that led to the death of three members of the Binladin family.Investigations depend on the black box which registers the entire plane’s data, including speed, position of mob...
JAZAN: In a tragic accident, a speeding fuel truck caused four deaths and injuries to many people when it collided head on with five cars on the northern entrance of Abu Areesh area of Jazan, according to a website.The truck deviated from its path an...
JEDDAH: Municipal and Rural Affairs Minister Abdul Lateef Al-Asheikh has directed all the municipal authorities to closely scrutinize the election candidates’ credentials to thwart violation of rules.This is to ensure that the candidates meet all the...
Mohammed Mokammel Hossain, labor consul, Bangladesh Consulate, Jeddah * Which particular aspect of Saudi Arabia you like the most? Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah.* Can you tell us your favorite and oft-repeated Arabic word? Insha’Allah. * W...
RIYADH: Expatriates feel Saudi Arabia is a safer place than their home countries despite the fact that the Kingdom is leading a war against the Yemeni rebels and other terror organizations and a couple of suicide attacks in the recent past. Mahmoud T...
RIYADH: The maximum medical policy or contract for visitors is SR100,000, which covers expenses on emergency treatment, maternity charges, traffic accident injuries, dialysis and medical treatment in or outside the Kingdom. Making the above announce...
JEDDAH: The city and its surrounding areas sweltered on Monday, with the maximum temperature rising to 44 degree Celsius and relative humidity being recorded at 85 percent. The weather department has forecast a similar situation in Jeddah on Tuesday....
JEDDAH: A National Academy for Energy in Dammam and a private technical technical college, both exclusively for women, will be opened in the Easter Province.The General Organization of Technical and Vocational Training is in the process of implementi...
AL-AHSA: Masjid Joatha or Joatha Mosque is a center of attraction in Al-Ahsa with many visitors and tourists thronging the place of worship, which was believed to have been built in the seventh year of Hijri (629 AD).The mosque has been restored as p...

Stay Connected

Facebook