Eritrea: Independent, but not yet free

A Day to Celebrate?

On 24th May 2022, it will be 31 years since Eritrea gained its independence!


This is a Google Earth image of Era Ero, the high security prison in Eritrea where all the journalists and the officials who criticized the president are kept.

23 May 2022 

Is this not, surely, a time for great rejoicing? With hard-won independence, we would expect this, above all, to be a day to celebrate…a nation’s freedom, perhaps?

Sadly, it remains at present a grim anniversary, with nothing much to be celebrated. At present, it means one thing for Eritreans: not freedom and independence as normally understood; no, it is a wry ironic date; for the promise of this date has not been fulfilled; rather this date merely reminds Eritreans of the betrayal by Isaias Afwerki’s regime, the loss of their personal and democratic freedoms, and the even more dangerous loss of respect for the truth.

What principles would we expect a newly independent democratic state to stand for and to model for other nations:

Truth and Justice:

There is no free or independent media in Eritrea, and there has not been for the last 20 years, and the truth of what is happening within the country is not allowed to be told. A heavily controlled false narrative is spread by the state-controlled Eritrean media.

Freedom of Movement: 

Under normal circumstances, a truly free person has a right to live and go wherever they wish inside or outside their own country…. Yet Eritreans enjoy less freedom than any other country’s citizens, except perhaps North Koreans. You are not even free to leave your own country…that basic human right…if you have the misfortune to be born in Eritrea. The exit drain of young people leaving Eritrea is greater than any comparable country on the African continent. There is indeed mass movement by the young people of Eritrea, but all of it is in a desperate attempt to escape the horrors of life in their native country!

And the regime in Asmara has gone much further than most in forcibly deporting up to 20,000 refugees from Tigray camps to the very country they fled from, in flagrant contempt for all international treaties. With less publicity, the Asmara regime arranges with governments such as Egypt to have its own Eritrean citizens, who have fled to Egypt, forcibly returned to great danger in their country of origin.

Religious freedom: 

If an independent nation has been fighting for freedom to think and act independently, then, for sure, that must include their deepest thoughts and beliefs?

What of freedom of belief in Eritrea? There is none: hundreds of Eritreans in prison bear silent witness to persecution for their faiths and beliefs…The death earlier this year of the rightful Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, who had been under house arrest for 16 years, reminded us of the absence of true freedom of belief in Eritrea, further confirmed by the recent arrest of monks who supported him.

Protecting Human Rights:

Because their human rights went unrecognised and unprotected under a previous occupying regime, surely a new country will give the highest value and prominence to protecting human rights and justice? Tell that to the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience detained without charge or trial for years and even decades in above-ground and underground prisons, and metal shipping containers all over Eritrea! Tell that to thousands of detainees who have experienced horrific torture sanctioned by the state and its so-called government.

Celebration of a Different Kind…

In 31 years, much can be achieved in a new state, much can be built. And yet…what can we celebrate on this Eritrean Independence Day?

What we can celebrate is not visible on the streets of Asmara — or anywhere else in the country. It lives silently in the hearts of a noble people.

Despite all their suffering, a heroic people have not given up. We must not forget…

The sheer nobility of those who have opposed a cruel dictatorship.

The martyrs who have lost their lives for their beliefs.

The heroes who suffered torture, but still endured, to denounce the villainy at work in Eritrea to a sleeping world.

The tenacity of those who will not give up, in the face of the apparent hopelessness of the struggle against a rampant evil.

Let us celebrate the spirit of a people who still struggle for justice, inside and outside their beloved country, because they will not give up their dream of a new land of love and laughter, joy and opportunity…even while their families are held hostage in order to silence the truth-tellers.

Unlikely as it may seem, their spirit will not be crushed, nor their freedom lost forever. When remembering a noble independence struggle won 31 years ago, we must recognise and celebrate what it proved.

That no nation can be kept forever in slavery!

That no people will forever lose their hopes of freedom.

You cannot enslave forever a good heart and a community of shared values.

Truth will inexorably be told. 

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)

+44 7958 005 637


  1. Thank you for a very well written comment.
    We need hope and I am sure the situation will change some day.

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