London, 6 March 2021
Eritrean Embassy in the UK’s attempt to silence Assenna collapses
The Eritrean government has repeatedly attempted to silence the international media reporting on the situation in the country. Visas are seldom issued to international journalists and their visits carefully controlled. These attempt at censorship have been supplemented by attacks abroad.
The Eritrean government has attempted to halt broadcasts on satellite television that are received in Eritrea. The latest attempt to silence Amanuel Eyasu, the founder, executive director and editor of Assenna TV has failed.
On 8 July 2020 the UK Counter Terrorism Policing wrote to Amanuel saying the Eritrean Embassy in London had lodged a complaint about Assenna broadcasts. The letter said that “a report has been made regarding broadcasts on the Assenna and Tv Asena YouTube Channels.” The police said they were considering the complaint in terms of Section 1 of the Terrorism Act of 2006, and Inciting Terrorism Overseas under Section 59 of Terrorism Act of 2000. Subsequent to this, the police spent a lot of time considering the allegations, including having a huge volume of video footage translated from Tigrinya into English.
Assenna Foundation decided to fight what we believed were baseless allegations and enlisted the services of Duncan Lewis as our lawyers. Their legal team spent hours looking at the details, spoke with Amanuel and the Chairperson of Assenna Foundation, Habte Hagos. The lawyers also accompanied Amanuel in his voluntary interviews with the police.
We explained in detail, and provided documentary evidence, about the Eritrean government’s involvement in terrorist activities in the Horn of Africa. It was as a result of these activities that the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against the Eritrean government for 9 years. We pointed to the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry’s that the “Eritrean Government was accused of committing crimes against humanity”, not only once, but twice. Based on this, we requested the police re-examine the evidence that was the basis of the allegations. To their credit the police undertook this, as well as commissioning a second translation of the material.
Eight months later, on 1 March 2021, the police sent a letter to the Assena Foundation stating unequivocally that: “The translated contents of the videos as you are aware, have been reviewed by the Counter Terrorist Internet Referral Unit and passed on to the Crown Prosecution service who have completed a review of the potential offences that may have been committed under section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 and as a result of the review no charges are brought against you”.
The Assena Foundation and Amanuel Eyasu were exonerated of all charges.
Habte Hagos, said: “I did not have the slightest doubt that Amanuel would be cleared of all the allegations from the outset, because he broadcasted the truth and I have full confidence in the Metropolitan Police and the UK judicial system. Nevertheless, I am delighted Amanuel has been formally cleared of all the charges but equally saddened by the case. I am sad because such trumpeted up and fabricated allegations by the Eritrean government result in the abduction, rape, torture, disappearance and killings of innocent people in our country”.
Amanuel for his part said: ‘Had I been in Eritrea, I would have ended up in prison, or been killed like the dozens of Eritrean journalists whose whereabouts are unknown. I will continue to be the voice of the voiceless, until the rule of law and freedom of expression I am experiencing here in the UK, prevails in Eritrea.’
Background to this case
This is by no means the first attack on journalists and the media engaged with Eritrea in the UK.
In November 2018, a group of gangsters used by the Eritrean regime, physically and verbally assaulted Mr Martin Plaut, a former BBC Africa Editor and an expert on the Horn of Africa. The ring leader was apprehended by the police, convicted in a Magistrate Court where he received a criminal record, suspended prison sentence and a fine. Then in November 2019, having spent a year in Eritrea, he committed a similar attack. This time on Amanuel Eyasu of the Assenna Foundation. He was again arrested by the police and brought to justice where he received a lengthy suspended prison sentence and a fine.
In conclusion, we would like to remind members of the Eritrean diaspora to remain vigilant against possible attacks by supporters of the Eritrean regime. An attack on anyone of us is an attack on us all. We will continue to fight injustice with justice.
Habte Hagos, Chairman, Assena Foundation