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by PBS Frontline
 Published on Monday May 10, 2021 - 3:07 AM
 
Escaping Eritrea
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Editor’s note: FRONTLINE has updated the film and transcript to reflect the correct location of Wi’a prison camp. Two translations have also been updated for clarity and accuracy.

NARRATOR:

Tigray, northern Ethiopia. Our investigation began here in the winter of 2016. A group of refugees had just escaped neighboring Eritrea. They were part of a mass exodus, half a million and counting. Thousands of them unaccompanied children.

MAI AINI REFUGEE CAMP

TOMAS, 12

TOMAS:

[Speaking Tigrinya] We came through where there were a lot of landmines. We were only thinking of escaping to here. Although we knew the mines were there, we didn't think about them. We were just worried about soldiers seeing us. I had tried to escape before. I was caught. They beat me to a pulp, saying, 'You're the one who led them. You're the one who knows the way. Who are you working for?' If I go back they will either kill me or take me to prison.

NARRATOR:

The children told us they were fleeing repression, imprisonment and forced conscription into the Eritrean military.

RIGAT, 14

RIGAT:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I didn't want to go and do national service. They don't even wait till you're 18 years old. You can go at 16 or 17. So we were scared.

We escaped because we were afraid of being rounded up and taken. In Eritrea, our life was bad because everyone is escaping. You're just beaten and made to suffer by those older than you. In Eritrea there is no good thing.

MALE SOLDIER:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Salute the honorable president of Eritrea.

NARRATOR:

Eritrea is often described as Africa’s North Korea. It’s been ruled by one man, Isaias Afwerki, since 1991, when it won a war of independence from Ethiopia. There are no national elections, no parliament, no independent judiciary, no free press. Amid ongoing conflict with Ethiopia, the president imposed mandatory national service for all Eritreans.

PRESIDENT ISAIAS AFWERKI

INTERVIEWED IN 2007

PRESIDENT ISAIAS AFWERKI:

It’s not our own making, it's not ever—it's not been our own choice. We never wanted to go this way, but it’s been imposed upon us and we have to survive and live with it. It’s not a question of national service or avoiding the national service. You aspire to become someone in this society and have good quality life, you work for that. You don’t get it free.

People learn it either the easy way or the hard way.

NARRATOR:

Critics accuse the regime of locking up anyone who opposes it; anyone who tries to flee the country; and anyone who avoids conscription. The president has always publicly denied those charges.

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] When I look back now—I don't know, it's really difficult. But I didn't lose hope. I kept thinking I would escape from there one day.

There's a lot more, many things that remain hidden. But in due time all will be revealed.

NARRATOR:

In a safe house in Ethiopia’s capital, we met a man named Michael. He’d just escaped from Eritrea and smuggled out something remarkable: secretly shot footage from inside one of the country’s military-run prisons.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] The reason I did this was to get evidence that the regime is oppressing the youth and the people and to show that the Eritrean people suffer a lot of abuses. It's a small piece of evidence. It's like scooping water from the sea with a spoon.

I am not willing to show my face because I want to protect my family. Because the regime will seek revenge on those who are left behind.

It's OK, take it out.

MALE VOICE:

It has to say 'record'?

MICHAEL:

Let me see?

NARRATOR:

Michael told us he was arrested in 2011 for trying to avoid military service.

ADI ABEYTO PRISON

NARRATOR:

He was then held here, in Adi Abeyto prison, just outside the capital, Asmara, for more than four years.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Thats it, it's recording. Just keep it hidden.

NARRATOR:

He said a sympathetic guard helped him smuggle in a small camera.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I think it's a little noticeable.

NARRATOR:

And he worked with one other trusted prisoner.

MALE VOICE:

[Speaking Tigrinya] It's normal, let's just go.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I put the camera in my jacket pocket. So the pocket has a hole inside.

NARRATOR:

The other inmates were not aware Michael was filming.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] If I'd been caught it's obvious what would have happened. There are people who have been jailed for 20 years just for speaking out. So me, I could have been executed.

NARRATOR:

The prisoners can be seen packed into large holding rooms. According to Michael, they can be held like this for years without trial.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] In here, more than 2,000. There are four rooms and more than 2,000 male prisoners. There are people who've been imprisoned for four, five, up to eight years. A long time. The people are so crammed together one felt that they were dead, sleeping head to foot. Many have lost their minds.

NARRATOR:

Michael said many of his fellow inmates were there for avoiding conscription like him or attempting to escape the country or helping family members flee.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] It’s very difficult to escape the prison. Around it are open fields. There are cars. There are troops and they can shoot you.

MALE GUARD:

[Speaking Tigrinya] You never know what he will do in the future.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] This person has been tied up, accused of trying to escape. He was one of more than 10 people who were accused of protesting and trying to escape.

MALE GUARD:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Make it like this.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Inside there are collaborators who act as informers. And he's being tied up because they informed on him. At first, they beat him badly in a very appalling way. He was tied, beaten, even electrocuted.

NARRATOR:

Michael was one of more than 30 Eritrean refugees we interviewed over the course of our investigation. For their safety, we agreed to conceal many of their identities. We also reviewed and verified more than 10 hours of secretly shot footage from inside the country.

The Eritrean government would not speak to us about what we’d found other than to say the allegations were “astounding” and that they’d seen many fabricated stories before.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I escaped and got out, but I think of my friends who are still there, and I remember the love and care we showed each other looking after the injured. That's how we coped. I miss them. I feel really bad that they're not out here with me.

NARRATOR:

Shortly after meeting Michael, we made contact with a secret group of Eritrean activists. We met them in a café in the Ethiopian capital.

ERITREAN ACTIVIST:

[Speaking Tigrinya] You know, we need to talk quietly. Don't be too trusting, even if you have your people with you.

NARRATOR:

They told us they were in touch with a network of fellow activists in Eritrea who could provide us with more undercover footage from inside the country. They said it was dangerous and would take time. We would have to wait.

Human rights groups accuse Eritrea of running a national network of jails and detention facilities like the one Michael filmed. For two years, a United Nations team tried to investigate this network. They were forbidden from entering the country.

SHEILA B. KEETHARUTH, Fmr. U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea:

What we did at the Commission of Inquiry was to use satellite imagery to be able to identify a certain number of detention centers. But anything to do with facts and figures and actual statistics is very difficult to get in Eritrea. It all goes to the opaqueness of the system. There is no audit or real figure of the number of prisoners. This is very worrying, because any prison system, official prison system, should be, in fact, in a position to have a list of all those in their custody. And this is not possible to get in Eritrea.

Lots of people when they are taken in do not even know why they have been arrested. They have no clue once they're in there when they will get out. They don't have legal representation. They're not taken to a court. Many have been held incommunicado. There is no rhyme or reason as to how long somebody would be in detention.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

We were being constantly beaten for not working hard or fast enough. In many of the prisons and farms where I was detained, we never had shelter.

NARRATOR:

As part of its inquiry, the U.N. collected testimony from more than 800 Eritreans. One of those who gave evidence was Hanna Petros Solomon.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

Every Eritrean has been scarred by the self-proclaimed President Isaias Afwerki, and all I am asking of you today is to bear witness to these scars and do what is just. Look through the façade and grant freedom, justice to the Eritrean people.

BOSTON, MA

NARRATOR:

Hanna now lives in the United States. In 2009, she had tried to flee Eritrea to avoid military service.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

We got caught and then we were taken to prison. We were interrogated. We were brought in one by one. They would ask us questions. "Who did we plan it with? What's the name? Who else knows?" And throughout the night, they would take in more of the smugglers, and they would start beating them up. So we could hear them screaming throughout the night.

There were a lot of cargo containers, and prisoners were kept in there. One day, someone kept banging, but the guards didn't listen, didn't go over to check. It was in the summer, and it can get really hot in summer. So they kept banging to ask them, to let them know, but they completely ignored them, because even we could hear them from inside. And then when they opened the door, someone had died in there.

This area right here is where naval base is. Zoom in. So I remember vividly we were kept in this hangar right here. It’s actually two different spaces. So this space was filled with inmates and you could hear them screaming. This is where they interrogated us, and there was another room. They kept some inmates here. I remember there was one Eritrean smuggler who had burned skin who was held here. So they would let us out, use the beach over here to defecate or whatever for the morning, and then we would go back to that spot right there.

NARRATOR:

After nine months in prison, Hanna said she was sent here, to Sawa military training base, where all Eritreans start their mandatory national service.

SAWA MILITARY TRAINING BASE

NARRATOR:

In Eritrean propaganda, Sawa is depicted as a happy place where citizens become good, patriotic soldiers. Hanna told us the reality for her was very different.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

We were supposed to be military trained—officially, anyway. So they took us to Sawa. But after two days in Sawa, they were gathering up women from everywhere. They took us to farms. So I went to three or four different farms, just working the fields. We would plant, weed, do a bit of everything, and throughout our work, our guards would make deals with other generals who had farms nearby. So they would take us there, do the work, and take the money, I guess.

Throughout our stay in these different farms, there were many, many women who were either threatened or were asked for sexual favors in exchange for cell phones, a phone call. In exchange for water. In exchange for menstrual pads. For anything. Some were desperate. All were desperate. And I guess when—in situations when you didn't have anything and you were kept half-starving, those favors were something to consider.

NARRATOR:

Hanna’s story mirrored the accounts of many other refugees we met in camps along the border with Ethiopia.

Sarim told us he’d just recently escaped from Eritrea.

SARIM:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I did 20 years of national service. Being a soldier is mandatory, I had no choice. I hated the military, so I decided to leave my country. National service should have a time limit, but ours has no end. It is not serving your country, it is simply slavery.

NARRATOR:

In his first attempt to escape, Sarim said he was shot in the arm and leg while trying to cross the border and taken straight to prison with untreated wounds.

SARIM:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I was held underground with eight other people. The cell was about two meters wide and the height was 1.5 meters. And there were eight of us. You couldn't stand up straight. You have to crouch. It was very hot. It was always dark. You sleep all crammed together. The underground cell is such a difficult place.

NARRATOR:

Sarim told us he was held like this for two years and three months.

SARIM:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I was thinking about nothing but freedom, how to get out of there and get medical help. How do I get out of this darkness?

NARRATOR:

In our interviews with refugees, one prison kept coming up: Wi’a Camp.

WI’A CAMP

TESFAY:

[Speaking Tigrinya] This, it must be Wi'a. It's Wi'a.

NARRATOR:

Tesfay said he was held at Wi’a as punishment for trying to flee military service.

TESFAY:

[Speaking Tigrinya] It's surrounded by thorny bushes. It's so you don't run away at night.

This is the underground cell. This is 'the oven.' "The oven.'

These are underground cells here. Those accused of religious crimes, for politics, for attempting escape, they were imprisoned here.

There are also some who die. There was one next to me whose brain ruptured from the sheer heat of the place. So he died there.

If there is someone who's been there for two years next to you, you see him and understand that's what awaits you, because there is no sentencing, so you wish for death. You pray for it, wondering, when will death come?

NARRATOR:

Daniel, a Christian pastor, and Kiros, a soldier, were also detained in Wi’a prison camp. They say that they too were held in the underground cell known as "the oven."

DANIEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] You had to bend like this to enter it, it's very narrow. You must crawl to enter it. It's a window. They even beat your feet to push you in. You must crawl through it to enter. It's extremely narrow. I can't explain the heat. It's unbearable.

KIROS:

[Speaking Tigrinya] In Wi'a, the thing I remember the most was walking barefoot with some who were blinded. I remember my brothers dying, stepping over dead bodies when I left to exit. What could be worse? It’s better to die. Being in a volcano is nothing compared to that. Wi'a means hell.

GENEVA

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

U.N., shame on you! U.N., shame on you!

MALE PROTESTER:

Where's the human rights? Where's the human rights, U.N.? Stop! Stop! Stop!

NARRATOR:

In June 2016, the U.N. investigators were ready to announce their findings.

FEMALE PROTESTER:

Hands off Eritrea!

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

U.N., shame on you! U.N., shame on you!

NARRATOR:

Supporters of the Eritrean government staged a protest in Geneva, accusing the U.N. of bias.

The U.N. report recommended Eritrea be referred to the International Criminal Court.

MIKE SMITH, Chair, Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea:

Eritrean officials have committed crimes against humanity. The crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic campaign against the civilian population since 1991. The aim of the campaign has been to maintain control over the population and perpetuate the leadership’s rule in Eritrea.

NARRATOR:

In response, the Eritrean government said the accusations were politically motivated, groundless and an "unwarranted attack."

YEMANE GEBREAB, Adviser to president of Eritrea:

Stepping way over its mandate, the commission has made the extraordinary judgment that the human rights situation in Eritrea constitutes a threat to international peace and security, as a pretext to send yet another African country to the International Criminal Court. The commission has not presented evidence to support its accusations. It fails to prove that the alleged crimes were indeed persistent, widespread and systematic.

PROTESTERS [chanting]:

Down, down, dictator! Down, down, dictator! Down, down, dictator! Down, down, dictator!

NARRATOR:

For opponents of the regime, the U.N. report was a moment of hope. But for reasons that have never been explained publicly, senior U.N. authorities took no further action. They declined to speak to us about it.

2017

NARRATOR:

By now, it had been more than a year since we’d made contact with the activists trying to get undercover footage out of Eritrea. We’d received a few clips from them—nothing more. We were told two had been arrested. Some had sent messages back to us saying it was too dangerous to film; others had broken off all contact. In the meantime, we continued to gather firsthand accounts from Eritreans who’d escaped.

SOLOMON:

Think about it. You've put these people in a physically difficult position for a long period of time. We're not talking about a day or two days; this goes for months. They will be delirious. They will be paranoid. They will be depressed. There is a sleep deprivation, which is insomnia. And some people just lose their mind. They were sane, and they lose their sanity.

NARRATOR:

Solomon was a doctor in Asmara.

SOLOMON:

This is the hospital, and this is the prisoners’ ward, which is outside of the hospital premises. It had, all in all, 24 beds.

NARRATOR:

He told us he regularly treated inmates who had been tortured in Adi Abeyto prison, as well as another military prison, Mai Serwa.

SOLOMON:

Somebody would be interrogated, and then would sustain severe trauma. Inability to move, inability to walk, fractures sometimes, or just loss of consciousness from severe pain. And then we would get patients like that. I could only imagine that this person has been tortured repeatedly.

NARRATOR:

We heard similar accounts of torture from Michael, the former inmate who filmed undercover in Adi Abeyto prison. He told us that prisoners were interrogated—and tortured—in a room here, just above the main courtyard. He said that when he was first imprisoned, he was subject to months of brutal interrogation.

MICHAEL:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Your hands are tied, like this. They turn you. They have a stick. They beat you on your back, your bottom, thighs and the soles of the feet. They also tie your hands, hoist you up and suspend you for someone to beat the soles of your feet. And they also give you electric shocks. Sometimes they beat you for three hours. There are some who've been detained without trial for as long as five years, being constantly interrogated.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

Everything is very sadistic. It's meant to put people down. It's meant to hurt people, not just physically, but psychologically, as well. Now, thinking about it calmly, I would say that the same guards that made our lives miserable were miserable themselves. I think the Eritrean people are the perpetrators and the victims themselves. It's the system itself. It’s the system.

NARRATOR:

In Eritrea, Hanna told us, anyone can become a victim. Her father, Petros Solomon, was once one of the most powerful people in the country: the minister of defense.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

It was a happy home. It was good times. I knew him as the playful father. I didn't know that serious side of him or that other political side of him that I have come to read and know about later on.

NARRATOR:

In 2001, Hanna’s father wrote an open letter with 14 other officials criticizing the president’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Hanna was 10 years old at the time.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

The night before he got arrested, my mom was away, so I was sleeping with my dad. And when he woke up in the morning, he pulled my leg, so I woke up and was like, "Where are you going?" He said, "I'll be right back." I'm like, "You promise?" "Sure." And that's the last I remember of him. [pauses] Sorry. I thought that would be easier by now.

He left the house, but the military caught him right outside our door. He disappeared. We just didn't hear from him anymore.

NARRATOR:

President Isaias accused Hanna’s father and the others of trying to seize power and had 11 of them arrested. It’s thought most of them were imprisoned here, at a top-security facility called Era Ero, specially built for high-profile political prisoners.

ERA ERO PRISON

NARRATOR:

The president went on to shut down the free press and jail many journalists. Hanna’s mother, Aster, was studying in the United States when her husband was locked up. She returned to Eritrea to seek his release.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

We all went to the airport. We waited for her at the airport. We had flowers, and we waited for hours. We waited for two, three hours there, and then eventually we went back home, and called her friends in the States, and they were like, "No, she made it to the plane. She left." And that's when we found out that they had taken her away.

Eventually, I think it's someone that got out of prison contacted my grandmother in secret and they told her, "We saw her from afar. She's being kept by herself." But that's about it. "No one talks to her. She's not allowed to talk to anyone." We just don't have any clue now as to how she's doing or what's going on. There hasn't been any official response from the government as to the whereabouts of my parents or their well-being.

MALE VOICE:

Ever.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

No.

NARRATOR:

In our requests to the Eritrean government, we asked about Hanna’s parents and other political prisoners, but they would not provide any details.

2018

NARRATOR:

Two years into our investigation, we’d heard nothing more from the undercover activists. But new footage had emerged on the internet of something almost unheard of in Eritrea: a public protest. It shows a crowd gathering in Asmara. Then, gunfire. The crowd flees.

In one of the refugee camps along the border, we found two young men who said they were there that day, Aman and Redwan. They told us they were protesting at the Education Ministry because an Islamic school was being put under government control and a religious leader had been arrested.

AMAN:

[Speaking Tigrinya] When we got to the ministry building, they were ready. They're shooting.

NARRATOR:

Some of the protesters were filming on their phones. Aman and Redwan told us that when the video was published on the internet, the authorities used it to identify and arrest anyone who was there.

AMAN:

[Speaking Tigrinya] They haven't been released yet. They were in normal prisons first but were taken from there. Even now, we don’t know where they are. There are even small children who have still not been released. So rather than being put in underground prisons, you choose to escape.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Today, some good news out of the Horn of Africa.

FEMALE NEWSREADER:

Ethiopia has agreed to end a two-decade long feud with Eritrea.

NARRATOR:

In July 2018, Eritrea’s president and a new Ethiopian leader, Abiy Ahmed, announced a surprise peace deal.

MALE NEWSREADER:

So this is a major, major development in East Africa, not only in terms of establishing peace, but hopefully over time bringing some sort of democracy and liberalization.

NARRATOR:

The border was briefly opened, and families separated by years of hostilities between the two countries were at last reunited. Jubilant Eritreans hoped that peace would mean the end of compulsory national service, the end of mass imprisonment and a new dawn for their country.

2019

DESTA:

[Speaking Tigrinya] People were expecting that with peace everyone would be free to work and we would finally get what we wanted. Eritreans believed they no longer had to worry about a life of hardships.

NARRATOR:

In the months after the peace deal, the border closed again and we started to hear reports that little had changed. Then we were finally contacted by one of the activists working to smuggle out undercover footage. He was a prison guard who asked to be called "Desta."

DESTA:

[Speaking Tigrinya] We thought that with peace everything would open up. They said there was peace, but nothing changed in Eritrea. I want people to know the truth. Until this day it's still hidden. The truth is locked away. We need to rip it open.

Who is hiding it? The government. The leaders.

ADI ABEYTO PRISON

NARRATOR:

Desta told us he was a guard at Adi Abeyto prison. Shortly after the peace deal, he started filming with a secret camera that we’d sent to him.

DESTA:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I had tried it on beforehand at home just to feel how it felt on my body, how I must act. It made me very stressed, to be honest. If I had been caught there would've been huge consequences on my life. Not only on myself, but on my family. It could have meant the end of my life.

NARRATOR:

He filmed new arrivals. Some appear to be no more than teenagers.

DESTA:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Some are border-crossers, and some are smugglers. Every two weeks, three at most, two big trucks come, full of people.

This guy uses the belt to scare them and they move faster because they don't want to get hit. They are people who have fled national service or without permission to move around. Or people who've dropped out of school, or soldiers who've not returned from seeing their families.

This is the women's prison. There are 200 women here. Some were arrested crossing the border. Others are accused of collaborating with smugglers, helping people to cross through their village or not reporting them to the authorities. That's what these mothers are accused of, even though they don't know anything. They're rounded up and taken to Adi Abeyto, and their children are arrested with them. There are a lot of children.

NARRATOR:

Desta confirmed what we’d heard from the former inmate Michael about the torture room.

DESTA:

[Speaking Tigrinya] This is the interrogation room. There are the interrogators. They're the ones who beat them. We only do the guarding and then return to our rooms. There is no other interaction. When people return after being beaten, we take them to their cells if they're OK or to the hospital if they're injured.

The type of beating most frequently used is called "church." There is something like a goal post that goes like this and this. You are suspended there with your two feet facing up. They beat you with the stick, or rubber hose with metal inside, or they use gunpowder.

It's continuous. There are always other crimes they want you to admit to. They keep interrogating you even if you admit to some crimes. They'll beat you again days later, before your wounds have healed.

They will keep doing this until you cannot function physically or you lose your mind.

NARRATOR:

Desta then took his secret camera to one of the prison’s main detention halls. The conditions looked very similar to the video that Michael had shared with us four years earlier.

DESTA:

[Speaking Tigrinya] There are some I've seen who have lost their minds because they've been there many years. I know one guy who's been here for 12 years because his case has not been brought to court and there is no proper procedure in Adi Abeyto. He's not been sentenced yet, and anyone here accused of a crime is held without being sentenced. You only know the date you arrive, not when you will leave.

The number of people in the prison keeps increasing. I was there myself last week and it took three guards to close the door because there were too many people.

2020

NARRATOR:

In late 2020, we tried to return to the refugee camps in Tigray, but journalists were now barred from the region amid an armed conflict between Ethiopia and rebel forces. Eritrea had joined the fight, and we’d heard reports that the refugee camps had come under attack.

In an audio interview with us, an eyewitness said he’d seen Eritrean soldiers sweep through Hitsats Refugee Camp.

MALE EYEWITNESS:

[Speaking Tigrinya] They were calling us traitors and sons of whores. They were particularly aggressive toward the youth. They were abusing, beating, killing. Many were loaded onto trucks and taken. They took many people. They even shot those who tried to escape. Everything was taken. The buildings were left bare. Some were destroyed by shelling and grenades.

NARRATOR:

The Eritrean government said in a statement that its troops never attacked the camps. But widely published satellite images show several buildings destroyed and burning at Hitsats and other refugee camps. And the U.S. State Department says it has received credible reports that Eritrean soldiers engaged in looting, sexual violence and assaults on refugees in the camps.

The eyewitness told us he knows of several refugees who were taken back to Eritrea and locked up in Adi Abeyto prison.

MALE EYEWITNESS:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I call my friends and family. They told me there are returnees. Some lucky ones had escaped. But there are so many imprisoned in Adi Abeyto. They constantly tell me to be careful, to stay safe.

NARRATOR:

It’s now almost five years since the U.N. Commission of Inquiry accused Eritrean officials of crimes against humanity.

SHEILA B. KEETHARUTH:

Despite all these years of documentation and scrutiny at the international level, it continues. The patterns continue. Nothing has changed in terms of human rights. Arbitrary detention, custody of people without any rule of law, it continues. There still is no constitution in the country. There's no free press. There is no independent judiciary. National service remains involuntary, indefinite and is still there. It's still forced labor and enslavement of a whole population.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

When the peace deal was happening, a lot of my friends, Eritreans, we gathered and we talked, and they're like, "Oh, finally peace is here." And I kept saying, "No, let's wait and see what's happening." And most of my friends thought I was being pessimistic, or I was being angry. But now do you see what I was talking about? Prisoners are still prisoners.

NARRATOR:

Hanna’s parents have now been in prison for almost 20 years.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Grandma.

HANNA'S GRANDMOTHER [on phone]:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Hello.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

[Speaking Tigrinya] How have you been?

HANNA'S GRANDMOTHER [on phone]:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Fine, fine, good.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Are you doing well?

HANNA'S GRANDMOTHER [on phone]:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I'm doing well.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Are you coping with the cold?

HANNA'S GRANDMOTHER [on phone]:

[Speaking Tigrinya] No, it's fine so far. It's just the wind.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Any news from Eritrea?

HANNA'S GRANDMOTHER [on phone]:

[Speaking Tigrinya] No, what news? Where would we get news from?

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

[Speaking Tigrinya] How about Mom and Dad?

HANNA'S GRANDMOTHER [on phone]:

[Speaking Tigrinya] Nothing about them. What news do we have? It's been forever.

HANNA PETROS SOLOMON:

[Speaking Tigrinya] I don't know. They say there are some changes. I was wondering if you've heard anything?

HANNA'S GRANDMOTHER [on phone]:

[Speaking Tigrinya] No, where was the change supposed to come from? There is no change in Eritrea. We haven't seen any change at all.