Trade unionists imprisoned in Eritrea

The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) is requesting international support for a campaign to free three imprisoned trade union leaders in Eritrea. Tewelde Ghebremedhin, chair of Eritrea’s IUF-affiliated food and beverage workers’ federation, and Minase Andezion, secretary of the textile and leather workers’ federation, were arrested by security police on March 30 and remain in detention. They were detained at the offices of the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers. On April 9, police arrested Habtom Weldemicael, who heads the Coca-Cola Workers Union and is a member of the food and beverage workers’ federation executive. According to some reports, Weldemicael was urging an industrial action to protest the catastrophic decline in workers’ living standards. The three are being held incommunicado and without charges beyond the legal 48 hours within which detainees must be brought before a magistrate. Reports indicate that they are being held in a secret security prison in Asmara.

Writes the IUF:

Eritrea has become increasingly repressive under single-party rule, and the government is using the ongoing conflict with Ethiopia to sow paranoia and further tighten its grip on power. According to Amnesty International (which has also urged action in support of the three imprisoned union leaders), “Human rights violations continue in Eritrea on a massive scale. Thousands of government critics and political opponents–many of them prisoners of conscience who have not used or advocated violence–are detained in secret. Some have been held for several years. None has been taken to court, charged or tried. In some cases, panels of military and police officers have reportedly handed down prison sentences in secret proceedings that flout basic standards of fair trial. Detainees are not informed of the accusations made against them, have no right to defend themselves or be legally represented, and have no recourse to an independent judiciary to challenge abuses of their fundamental rights.” Amnesty says that the use of torture has become “systematic”.

These arrests mean that the circle of repression has now widened to include the labour movement. The IUF, the textile and leather workers’ international ITGLWF and the ICFTU have jointly called on ILO Director General Juan Somavia to intervene with the Eritrean authorities to secure the release of the three men. Your support as well is urgently needed. (LabourStart action alert)

Colombian trade unionists are calling for a boycott of Coca-Cola after paramilitary units have been brought in to terrorize organizers at bottling plants. (See WW4 REPORT #97.) Maybe the Eritrean workers should be brought into this campaign.