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Special Courts in Eritrea

In a civilized court system when an alleged criminal appears before the court there are three independent bodies that examine the case and deem the defendant “innocent” or “guilty”. The defendant hires a defendant attorney to study his case, and to present before the court and to argue why the defendant is innocent. The plaintiff also has a lawyer (prosecutor), who brings the case before the judge, proving that the defendant had done wrong and therefore, is guilty. Finally, there is the judge or judges who hear the arguments of both the defendants and the plaintiff’s lawyers, and give the verdict based on the evidence presented and based on the law of the land.

The Eritrean constitution Article 48 #2 states that the Eritrean judiciary shall be independent from both the parliament (governmental control) and any principal authority. In other words the judiciary is supposed to follow the letter of the law and make judgments based on the rule of law. The judge is the neutral party whose purpose is to protect and uphold the law.

In Eritrea there are three publicly known court systems, namely the Civil, Military and Special courts. The judges on all these courts are former military officers from the struggle years, who have little or no education on law. Hence, they follow their conscience and logic to come up with verdicts.

Eritrean Special Court:

The Eritrean Special Court opened in 1996 to allow the office of the President to go after the alleged corrupt officials of The Red Sea Trading Co. with zero tolerance or least leniency. In other words, the President can do what he wishes with zero accountability. God forbid if someone is transferred or is put in the system then you are under the discretion of a judge who plays the role of a prosecutor and a plaintiff. There is no book of law instead there is the conscience of the interrogator who operates under his/her whims and fancies, or under the order of the President.

Defendant - In the Special court (Filuy Firdee Bet) the accused is denied to have any representation or a lawyer for defense. (He has no visitation rights and in fact, if you are detained and you are under special court no one knows your whereabouts). Imagine, the accused normally comes straight from the jail and is likely to be sick and wounded due to the constant torture and harassment. This person is usually too weak and unfit to represent himself or herself. But the prosecutor (aka the judge aka plaintiff) expects the victim to represent himself.

The way you know whether your brother case is under the Civil court or Special court is, whether you have visitation right or not. If a person disappears, it is more likely he is dead or got transferred to prison that caters for the Special Court system. When a prisoner dies, the government does not have the courtesy to report to any family members. In Eritrea under the Special court prisons or watch, life become like a smoke and you disappear into thin air. The human abuse is rampant, cruel, sadistic and heartless. Thank God for people like Eyob Bahta (the guard) who escaped to Ethiopia lately and was able to expose and inform us about some of the prisoners who are being tortured.

Plaintiff – As mentioned above, the Special court was created by the President to go after the alleged corrupt officials of The Red Sea Trading Company in 1996. However, the system remained and has become the most corrupt inhumane court system in the world. It was created to fight corruption, and yet has become one corrupt system. In the Special court the plaintiff is the government (the judge), the interrogator or prosecutor is the government (the judge), and the verdict is given by the government (the judge). It is all one person or persons of the same interest. There is no check and balance. The office of the President has a direct involvement and runs these cases most of the time. The best way to explain this is, to imagine a rapist who brings his victim to the court and becomes the prosecutor, the jury and the judge and decides to punish his victim by his own system. In the History of Eritrea, Eritreans have never been disrespected like the one we are witnessing right now.

Such is the fate of those fearless fighters who uttered their rights and the right of the Eritrean people. They are in prison with no representation. Such is the fate of some religious people whose sin was to worship their God following their conscience. The journalists whose crime was writing events the way they saw them fell in this vicious cycle and bottomless pit. Former vice president Mahmoud Sherifo, military chief of staff Ogbe Abraha, and central committee members Aster Fesehatsion, Germano Nati, Hamid Himid and Salih Kekya are examples and symbols of thousands of Eritreans who are victims and who died in prison, simply because they asked for reform. Others are languishing and being murdered slowly. Minster Haile Woldetensaie lost his sight in prison due to lack of medical attention. A gruesome story will one day be told on how each of these prisoners died and suffered in the hands of the tyrants.

The judge(s) – The judge should be the one looking at the case from the defendant and the plaintiff’s arguments, and give a fair judgment according to the law. But since there is no written law for Special courts (at least not shown in public), and since the judge is acting like a plaintiff the results are obvious. The mood or the secret message from the President determines your outcome.

In 1997 the people of Eritrea had spoken and the constitution was entrusted to the current government of Eritrea. Article 48 of the constitution is clear as to the roles and responsibilities of the judiciary system in Eritrea. Articles 16 and 17 are very clear as to the human rights and torture. Eritreans should not be thrown away in underground dungeons and old metal containers in the hot deserts. This is cruel and inhumane, and no peace loving Eritrean should stand for such disrespect. The founders of the constitution did a good job to protect the interests of all Eritreans. However, the current government has abused its power and is refusing to implement the constitution due to some lame excuses. They say, they are not ready logistically to follow-up on the constitution, or they are not ready because of the disputes with Ethiopia, or they say Eritreans are not ready to experience democracy, etc.. That does not mean Eritreans should be thrown into corruption, torture, harassment, false imprisonment and murder. Enough is enough!

Hand in hand with the International world and with the peace loving Eritreans, we urge the government of Eritrea to release all those who are suffering without a just representation and without a just court system.

 
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