Eritrean activists take EU to court

Mary Harper

Africa editor, BBC World Service

Eritrean activists have sued the European Union, demanding it stop funding a project which they say uses forced labour.

National service recruits were set to be used and the Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans (FHRE) says conscripts are "trapped for an indefinite period".

The group, which is based in the Netherlands, accused the EU of failing to conduct adequate checks before it provided more than $85m (£70m) to finance a road linking Eritrea with Ethiopia.

The European Commission said its actions were guided by the rule of law.

Eritrea has complained that the lawsuit, filed in Amsterdam, is part of a demonisation campaign by its opponents.

The UN has described the system of indefinite conscription in Eritrea as slavery.

Covid-19: Respected Eritrean freedom fighter dies

Teklemariam Bekit

BBC News Tigrinya

Afwerki Abraha
Afwerki Abraha started his diplomatic career after years fighting in the liberation war

Former Eritrean diplomat Afwerki Abraha has died in the UK after contracting coronavirus, his family say.

The respected former liberation fighter, who was 71 years old and had been in intensive care in London for one month, did not have any underlying health issues, they say.

“Afwerki Abraha was a man who easily made the transition from a fighter to a professional and a loyal person,” his colleague and senior diplomat Haile Menkerios told the BBC.

Before joining the war of independence from Ethiopia, Mr Afwerki had studied political science and qualified as a chemist in Russia.

He went to the front in 1975 from Germany, where he had been living.

After the war he became the first Eritrean diplomat to be posted to Ethiopia.

He then moved on to London, where he was officially based from 1996 until 2001.

After his wife Fatina Ahmedin, an artist and former fighter, was knocked down by a car in London leaving her paralysed, the couple opted to stay in the UK.

One of his relatives told the BBC that Mr Afwerki was devoted to his wife’s care for 20 years “never leaving her alone”.

His friends too have described him as a very committed man who loved his family dearly.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea border dividing families
How the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea is dividing families and communities who live along it.

Eritrean president flies to Ethiopia ending rumours he died

Kalkidan Yibeltal

BBC News, Addis Ababa

Isaias Afwerki
Getty Images
Isaias Afwerki had not been seen in public for so long that people were speculating he had died

The president of Eritrea has flown to neighbouring Ethiopia for what officials say are talks about coronavirus and the locust infestation that has been destroying crops in the region.

Isaias Afwerki's arrival in Addis Ababa comes after a prolonged period when he had been not been seen in public at all, which prompted speculation about the state of his health.

It is not clear why the Eritrean leader chose to travel when most other meetings in the region have been conducted via video conference.

Mr Isaias has been leading Eritrea since independence in the early 1990s.

Eritrea starts 21-day coronavirus lockdown

Teklemariam Bekit

BBC News Tigrinya

Eritrean children at a fruit market in Gash-Barka, Agordat in Eritrea
Getty Images
Markets like this are shut during the lockdown

Eritrea has begun a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The announcement came after the health ministry reported three new cases of the virus, putting the total number of infected individuals at 18.

One of them is a 13-year-old girl, who contracted the disease from her mother who had been abroad.

The other two patients had also arrived in the country before a ban on commercial flights, the health ministry said.

During the lockdown, all citizens in the one-party, highly militarised state, including public sector employees, must stay at home.

One member of each household is allowed to go out to buy essential food items during the day from grocery stores, which can remain open.

Pharmacies and banks are also continuing to provide services, but other trading activities and weekly markets have been stopped.

However, those living in rural areas engaged in farming are exempt from the lockdown as they are involved in food production.

Construction and trucking would also continue to function, the health ministry said.

The lockdown might “entail considerable hardships on the daily lives of citizens”, it admitted.

But the gravity of threat caused by the pandemic meant there was no other option, it said.

Curfews, currency and khat: Latest coronavirus news

A man chews khat in Addis Ababa's 'Little Mogadishu' neighbourhood in 2019.
A temporary ban on the sale of a potent stimulant has reportedly saved Somalis millions of dollars (file photo)

African nations are taking tough action to restrict the spread of coronavirus and are increasingly taking steps to protect their economies too.

In the latest developments:

  • South Africa announced its first two coronavirus deaths as the country started a three-week lockdown with the army and police officers patrolling the streets. A few people have been arrested: a cyclist and others found with alcohol - the sale of which is banned. Videos circulating on social media show officers at times using force to get people to toe the line
  • Zimbabwe is allowing people to use US dollars again, reversing last year's ban on foreign currencies - a move aimed at supporting the already struggling economy against the effects of coronavirus. The country is to begin a lockdown on Monday
  • A temporary ban in Somalia on the stimulant leaf khat, which coincided with the suspension of international flights to and from capital because of coronavirus, is estimated to have saved people millions of dollars over the last week. Campaigners want the restrictions to be made permanent
  • The president of Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, has recalled disease control experts from overseas and announced new restrictions, including on shipping, and extra funding for Lagos state, which has registered 44 of Nigeria's 65 cases of coronavirus
  • A couple in Tanzania have been arrested for spreading false information - after being heard on a bus saying that coronavirus was a hoax. Dar es Salaam's police chief said the husband and wife were ridiculing the government
  • Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo - one of the continent's biggest cities - will start a three-week lockdown on Saturday. Residents will have to stay at home for four days and then be allowed to stock up on food on the following two days
  • Eritrea, with six confirmed cases, is shutting all schools and all public transport has been banned - as have all commercial flights. Gatherings of more than 10 have also been prohibited
  • Algeria is bringing nine more of provinces under a daily curfew already in place in the capital, Algiers, and the neighbouring province of Blida. It means residents will not be allowed out of their homes between 19:00 and 07:00 local time
  • And the BBC has launched a Africa coronavirus live tracker, which shows that there are so far 3,450 confirmed cases on the continent.

Coronavirus: Eritrea starts quarantine

Teklemariam Bekit

BBC News Tigrinya

The Eritrean government has announced it will quarantine visitors coming from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran, as part of its measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

These are some of the countries with the highest number of cases.


When it announced the guidelines, Eritrea’s health ministry said that were still no cases of the coronavirus in the country.

The ministry urged everyone to postpone their travel plans.