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Eritrea – An “Open-Air Prison”

ICC Note

The government of Eritrea has turned the country into “Open-Air Prison” according to Reporters San Frontiers. Among those facing persecution in the country are Christians who are routinely imprisoned and tortured due to their faith.

By Woldu Mikael

Nov 24, 2007 Eritrea ( – Eritrean government aggression against its own people continues unabated. It ranges from deliberate mass starvation to imprisonment without trial, torture, murder and disappearances. The aim is to crush any minimal claims or hopes for liberty and rule of law. The international media rights watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontiers, describes the country as an “open-air prison” under the most brutal dictatorship the African continent has ever seen.


Many are kept in dungeons and metal shipping containers under smoldering heat during the day and freezing temperatures at night. Many die as a result, or become partially or fully paralyzed; one of the victims is the renowned Gospel singer, Helen Berhane. Sanitation is said to be mostly non-existent. There is no medical treatment for injured torture victims.


Methods of Torture

There are several methods of torture reported by Amnesty International and confirmed by other independent human rights bodies. The most commonly used method is the tying up of the limbs with rope – known as “The Helicopter”.

“The Helicopter”: the victim is tied with a rope by hands and feet behind the back, lying on the ground face down, outside in the sun, rain or freezing cold nights, stripped or upper garments. This is a punishment allocated for a particular number of days – the maximum reported being 55 days in the Dahlak Kebir island prison. The prisoner is tied in this position 24 hours a day, except for two or three short breaks.


“Jesus Christ”: the victim is stripped to the waist, wrists tied, and standing on a block with hands tied to a tree branch: the block is removed, leaving the victim suspended with the feet just off the ground in a crucifix-like posture. Beatings are inflicted on the bare back. This is said to be an extremely severe torture. This method was first reported from Adi Abeto prison in 2003.

“Ferro” (Italian iron): The wrists are bound behind the back with metal handcuffs while the victim lies on the bound face down and is beaten with sticks or whipped with an electric wire on the back and buttocks.

“Torch” or “Number Eight”: inside a special torture room, the victim is tied up by wrists behind the back and with the feet bound, a stick is placed under the knees and supported on a framework on both sides horizontally, and the body is turned upside down with the feet exposed. The soles of the feet are beaten with sticks or whipped.

Electric Shocks and Sexual Torture: In addition to electric shocks during interrogations, a coca-cola bottle filled with water is tied to the testicles.

Rape and Sexual Slavery: Amnesty International and other human rights bodies have reported sexual violence against female conscripts. Some of the new female conscripts were selected by commanders for sex under duress to serve as sex slaves. They were said to be threatened with heavy military duties or being denied home leave.


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