Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights.
Freedom of Speech and 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 Freedoms: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of the media and requires that documents, including books, be submitted to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including a newspaper published in three languages, three radio stations, and all local television broadcasters.
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 by law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.
The government permitted satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common in Asmara, Massawa, and other cities and increasingly in the countryside. 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 e-mail, without obtaining warrants. Government informants frequented internet cafes. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.
Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on land-based internet service provision. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to the most recent data released by the International Telecommunication Union, 1.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.
Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.
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 had to complete military training at Sawa before being 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 discouraged students from seeking information on international study and exchange programs and frequently denied them passports or exit visas. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.
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.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
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.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government 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 resources from or to associate with foreign and international organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
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 duties or arbitrarily for no given reason.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide protection and assistance in some areas, but it restricted UNHCR activities in others. The government defined refugee status differently than do the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. It did not recognize Ethiopians or Sudanese as refugees, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits. It routinely provided protection to Somali refugees.
UNHCR reported that in May the government halted all resettlement of Somali refugees from the Umkulu Refugee Camp. It ceased issuing exit visas for Somali refugees who were already approved for resettlement in third countries. Additionally, the government prevented Somali refugees in Umkulu from voluntarily repatriating to Somalia, prevented officials from resettlement countries from entering the country to screen additional resettlement candidates, and prevented candidates from exiting the country to be screened in resettlement countries. In November without explanation, the government expelled the UNHCR associate refugee protection officer.
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 in the country.
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 15.5 miles outside of Asmara. Authorities shortened this waiting period considerably for diplomats who had resided in country for an extended period. Authorities gave UNHCR staff a monthly permit to visit Umkulu Refugee Camp.
Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas to depart the country if they entered on an Eritrean passport or residency card. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children ages five and older. Authorities granted few adolescents exit permits; many parents avoided seeking exit permits for children approaching national service draft age due to concern authorities might also deny them permission to travel. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men under age 54, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30, unless they had children. The government did not generally grant exit permits to members of the citizen militia, although some whom authorities demobilized from national service or who had permission from their zone commanders were able to obtain them.
Exile: There were reports of citizens who left the country without exit visas being denied reentry. Many other citizens who fled the country remained in self-imposed exile due to their religious and political views and fear they would be conscripted into national service if they returned. Others reported there were no consequences for returning citizens who had residency or citizenship in other countries.
Emigration and Repatriation: To prevent emigration the government generally did not grant exit visas to entire families or both spouses simultaneously. Authorities arrested persons who tried to cross the border and leave without exit visas.
The COI found the government, largely the armed forces and particularly the border surveillance division, had implemented a shoot-to-kill policy for a “considerable period of time.” In its June 8 report, the COI stated that it had “reliable evidence” that the policy still existed, but was “not implemented as rigorously as it was in the past.”
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 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 inconsistently. Persons known to have broken laws abroad, contracted serious contagious diseases, or to have been declared ineligible for political asylum by other governments had their visas and visa requests to enter the country considered with greater scrutiny.
Citizenship: In 1994 the government revoked the citizenship of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their refusal to take part in the referendum on independence or participate in the military portion of national service. 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.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, although the government offered protection to some individuals from neighboring countries, predominantly Somali refugees. The government did not grant Ethiopians or Sudanese asylum, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits that enabled them to access government services. The government required Ethiopians to pay an annual fee of 600 nakfa ($40) for a residency card. The card demonstrated the holder was not indigent.
Employment: There did not appear to be discrimination based on nationality in terms of employment or entitlements with the exception of resident Ethiopians, some of whom the government viewed as potential security risks.
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 eligibility for ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices. Most Somalis were restricted to Umkulu Refugee Camp.
Ethiopians and Somalis were able to access basic government services upon procuring and presenting residency permits. UNHCR reported significant delays in the issuance of exit visas for Somali refugees in Umkulu Refugee Camp that caused it to raise concerns with the government regarding the implementation of durable solutions.
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 granted residency permits that enabled them to access government services. Authorities granted Sudanese and Ethiopians exit visas to leave the country for resettlement and study.