Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech, including for the press, the government severely restricted these rights.
The law criminalizes libel as a misdemeanor and prescribes a punishment of between one and six months’ imprisonment and a fine of between 5,000 and 20,000 nakfa ($333-$1,333). The law also criminalizes “malicious injury to honor or reputation,” which covers true statements communicated solely to damage a person’s reputation, and prescribes a punishment of less than one month in prison and a fine of 500 to 5,000 nakfa ($33-$333). It is unclear if these provisions were enforced.
Freedom of Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of media and requires submission of documents, including books, to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including one newspaper published in four languages, three radio stations, and two television stations.
The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable under the law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.
In September the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported 16 journalists were in detention as of December 2018. The CPJ also reported up to seven journalists may have died while in custody.
The government did not prevent persons from installing satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common nationwide in cities as well as villages. Access to South Africa’s Digital Satellite Television (DStv) required government approval, and a subscriber’s bill could be paid only in hard currency. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.
Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained in previous years and who were held incommunicado.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.
National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.
The government monitored some internet communications, including email, without appropriate legal authority. Government informants frequented internet cafes. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing opposition sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available. During the summer the government closed several internet cafes using satellite connections instead of the state-owned telecommunications company Eritel, which is the only land-based internet service provider in the country.
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.
With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students also had to complete military training at Sawa to be allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).
The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad.
The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers.
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government intermittently required those assembling to obtain permits. Authorities subjected gatherings of large groups of persons without prior approval to investigation and interference, with the exception of events that occurred in the context of meetings of government-affiliated organizations; were social in nature; or were events such as weddings, funerals, and religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide citizens the right to form organizations for political, social, economic, and cultural ends. It specifies their conduct must be open and transparent and that they must be guided by principles of national unity and democracy. The government did not respect freedom of association. It did not allow any political parties other than the PFDJ. It also prohibited the formation of civil society organizations except those with official sponsorship. The government generally did not allow local organizations to receive funding and other resources from, or to associate with, foreign and international organizations. In December the government approved the creation of the Society of Earth Scientists and Mining Engineers, a professional association dedicated to advancing science and engineering in Eritrea.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted all these rights. It often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military or national service duties or arbitrarily for no given reason. The government restricted travel of children with foreign passports whom it considered Eritrean nationals.
In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities required citizens to provide justification for travel at the few checkpoints.
Travel restrictions on noncitizens lawfully in the country remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, international humanitarian workers, UN staff, and foreigners to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel more than 15 miles (25 kilometers) outside of Asmara. During the year, however, the government on many occasions approved requests with less than 10 days’ advance notice.
Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, sometimes including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas. The government restricted travel of children with foreign passports whom it considered Eritrean nationals. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. The government often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military or national service duties. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children older than age five. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men younger than 40, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30. For women, marriage status and children also played a role. Those citizens who previously qualified for international travel were permitted to travel to and from Ethiopia when flights between the two countries resumed. Between August 2018 and March, when the border was open, three crossing points between the country and Ethiopia offered limited opportunities for overland travel, in the absence of fully formed immigration and customs procedures and infrastructure. For nationals of both countries, crossing these points did not require an entry visa, and Eritreans did not require exit visas or other travel documents.
Exile: In general citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be eligible for some government services and documents, including exit permits, birth or marriage certificates, passport renewals, and real estate transactions. The government enforced this requirement inconsistently. There were reports of citizens who left the country without exit visas being denied re-entry.
Citizenship: Most members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not perform military service continued to be unable to obtain official identification documents. They were not eligible for jobs in the formal economy or for ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government terminated its cooperation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees regarding treatment of refugees inside the country in March. The government defined refugee status differently than do the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. It did not recognize Ethiopians or Sudanese as refugees, instead considering them economic migrants. The government, however, allowed these refugees to remain in the country and granted them residency permits.
The government took steps to downsize the Umkulu Refugee Camp. Of the more than 2,100 refugees housed at the camp in mid-June, only 700 remained in the country at the end of July. At least 1,300 of those refugees travelled to Ethiopia after Eritrean government officials urged them to do so.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government did not grant Ethiopians or Sudanese asylum, although it allowed them to remain in the country.
Freedom of Movement: Most Somalis at Umkulu Refugee Camp could travel throughout the country.
Employment: Refugees were not granted formal work permits, but some worked informally.
Access to Basic Services: Persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin living in the country sometimes claimed they received social entitlements commensurate with the perceived degree of their loyalty to the government, including ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.
Ethiopians, Sudanese, and Somalis were able to access basic government services upon procuring and presenting residency permits.
Durable Solutions: The government did not grant persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin asylum or refugee status; however, authorities permitted them to remain in the country and to live among the local population instead of in a refugee camp. Authorities granted them residency permits that enabled them to access government services. Authorities granted Sudanese and Ethiopians exit visas to leave the country for resettlement and study.