Eritrean citizens continue to live under one of the most repressive governments in the world. The 1997 Constitution has not been implemented, democratic elections have been repeatedly postponed, and the independent media, only in existence since 1994, has been effectively destroyed. Recent developments in Eritrea demonstrate that the government continues to extensively control its population. The rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly remain largely curtailed – any dissent is met with swift repression.
Freedom of Association
There are currently no independent national or international NGOs able to function in Eritrea. The Non-Governmental Organisation Administration Proclamation (2005) places severe restrictions on NGOs, including on the funding which the UN and bilateral agencies can provide, and requires that donor funds flow through the government. In 2002, the government outlawed worship and assembly of religious groups outside registered denominations; in order to freely practice their faith, religious groups must register with the Department of Religious Affairs.
Freedom of Expression
Since the crackdown on civil society, political dissidents, and journalists in September 2001, there has been no functioning independent media in Eritrea. The country consistently features on the bottom of rankings that measure the enjoyment of freedom of expression such as Reporters without Border’s World Press Freedom Index and the CIVICUS Monitor. As of November 2016, at least 17 journalists are detained in Eritrea, many of whom have been held incommunicado since 2001. Although verified information from Eritrea’s expansive prison system remains scarce, it is believed that at least seven of the journalists arrested in September 2001 have since died in prison.
On 19 February 2017, the exiled Eritrean Forum Radio reported that two journalists working for the state-owned Eritrean Radio and Television Agency were jailed on suspicion of attempting to flee the country, which is considered an act of treason by authorities. Despite a shoot-to-kill policy at the border, the UNHCR estimates that about 5,000 Eritreans continue to flee the country each month, and that as of the end of 2015, there were 474, 296 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers across the world – roughly 12 percent of the country’s official 3.6 million population estimate.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The right to freedom of peaceful assembly is severely restricted in Eritrea. Groups of more than seven individuals cannot gather without prior approval from the government. Human rights organisations working from exile that remain connected with sources on the ground report that a network of spies works vigorously across the country to report any suspicious behaviour. Surveillance extends to Internet cafés where spies watch the frequency and the activity of Internet users. Since 2016, the government has ordered all Internet cafés owners to keep a detailed record of all people using their facilities.
 Human Rights Watch, “Eritrea: Events of 2016”, 12 January 2017, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2017/country-chapters/eritrea, Accessed 2 May 2017.
 Asmarino, “Eritrea: Security forces target Internet Cafes in Search of ‘Opposition Activities’”, 7 September 2016, Accessed on 4 May 2017
With no indication that the Eritrean government is willing to take steps to improve its human rights record or address past and ongoing violations, DefendDefenders calls for the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea.
On 27th October 2015, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) celebrated ten years of defending human right activists throughout the East and Horn of Africa. To mark this occasion, EHAHRDP has produced an anniversary publication.