Eritrea Must Free Ex-Minister Critical of President, Group Says

(Bloomberg) -- Eritrea’s government must release a former finance minister who was arrested this week after publishing a book criticizing President Isaias Afwerki and then challenging him to a debate, Amnesty International said.

Berhane Abrehe should be given an immediate and unconditional release, the London-based rights group said Wednesday in an emailed statement, describing his Sept. 17 detention as “disappointing.” Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Eritrea made a historic peace agreement with long-time foe Ethiopia in July, and Isaias’s top adviser subsequently said the one-party state that sits on a key Red Sea shipping route to the Suez Canal will have to respond to promises of democracy in its giant neighbor.

Berhane was arrested less than a week after publishing a book in two volumes titled ‘Eritrea My Country,’ which criticized the nation’s political system and called on Eritreans to use peaceful means to achieve democracy, Amnesty said.. He served as finance minister until a falling out with Isaias over the need for official budgets and audits, according to Awate.com, a California-based opposition website.

Eritrea should respect its people’s human right to freedom of expression “and allow them to speak openly on matters that are at the core of their present and future well-being,” Amnesty’s director for East Africa, Joan Nyanyuki, said in the statement.

Authorities must also release Berhane’s wife, who’s been jailed for a year because she allowed their son to leave the country without the government’s permission, the group said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.