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Demand Freedom for Imprisoned Eritrean Trade Unionists!

Posted to the IUF website 09-May-2005

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The IUF is requesting international support for a campaign to free three imprisoned trade union leaders in Eritrea. Tewelde Ghebremedhin, Chairperson of the IUF-affiliated Food, Beverages, Hotels, Tourism, Agriculture and Tobacco Workers Federation and Minase Andezion, secretary of the textile and leather workers' federation, were arrested by security police on March 30 and remain in detention. According to our information, Brothers Ghebremedhin and Andezion were arrested in the offices of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers, the national trade union center. On April 9, police arrested Habtom Weldemicael, who heads the Coca-Cola Workers Union and is a member of the food and beverage workers' federation executive. According to some reports, Weldemicael was urging workers to consider industrial action to defend the catastrophic decline in workers' living standards. As far as we have been able to ascertain, the three are being held incommunicado without charges beyond the constitutionally mandated 48 hours within which arrested persons must be brought before a magistrate. Reports indicate that they are being held in a secret security prison in Asmara.

Eritrea has become increasingly repressive under single-party rule, and the government is using the ongoing conflict with Ethiopia to sow paranoia and further tighten its grip on power. According to Amnesty International (which has also urged action in support of the three imprisoned union leaders), "Human rights violations continue in Eritrea on a massive scale. Thousands of government critics and political opponents many of them prisoners of conscience who have not used or advocated violence - are detained in secret. Some have been held for several years. None has been taken to court, charged or tried. In some cases, panels of military and police officers have reportedly handed down prison sentences in secret proceedings that flout basic standards of fair trial. Detainees are not informed of the accusations made against them, have no right to defend themselves or be legally represented, and have no recourse to an independent judiciary to challenge abuses of their fundamental rights." Amnesty says that the use of torture has become "systematic".

These arrests mean that the circle of repression has now widened to include the labour movement. The IUF, the textile and leather workers' international ITGLWF and the ICFTU have jointly called on ILO Director General Juan Somavia to intervene with the Eritrean authorities to secure the release of the three men. Your support as well is urgently needed.

Act Now!


Send a message (in English) to the Eritrean government, calling for the immediate and unconditional release of the detained union leaders and infoming them that they are accountable for the safety and wellbeing of the detainees. The government's greatest weapon is secrecy. A large response will help bring global publicity. Inform your union of the arrests, and urge local, national and international trade unions to also send messages. The message below (followed by a translation) can serve as a model text.


Sample Message to the President of Eritrea

To: President Issayas Afewerki of Eritrea
Fax: + 2911 126 422

cc: Brigadier General Abraha Kassa, Head of Security, Office of the President Fax + 2911 126422

cc: The Secretary General, National Confederation of Eritrean Workers
Fax: +291 1 126 606

Concerns: arrest of trade union leaders

Mr. President,

I write to express my profound concern over the arrest and continued detention of three Eritrean trade union leaders. According to information I have received, Tewelde Ghebremedhin, Chairperson of the Food, Beverages, Hotels, Tourism, Agriculture and Tobacco Workers Federation and Minase Andezion, secretary of the textile and leather workers' federation, were arrested by security police on March 30 and remain in detention. Ghebremedhin and Andezion were allegedly arrested in the offices of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers and are being held in Asmara. Some time on or around April 9, security police arrested Habtom Weldemicael, the head of the Coca-Cola Workers Union.

It appears that all three men are being held incommunicado with no access to lawyers, and are furthermore being detained in violation of Eritrean laws which stipulate that they be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours following arrest. It would appear that these three trade union leaders are being held in detention solely on account of their efforts to exercise their mandates as trade union officers.

These arrests and continued detentions therefore constitute a grave violation of international legal standards as well as explicit violations of Conventions of the ILO regarding freedom of association which are legally binding on Eritrea as an ILO member state and a signatory to ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

I call on your government to immediately and unconditionally release these three trade union leaders. International opinion will hold the government authorities responsible for the physical and psychological safety and wellbeing of the detainees.

Sincerely,

Please send copies of any messages you might send to the IUF secretariat. We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.