Swedish-Eritreans hit by blackmail torture threats

Eritreans in Sweden are being forced to cough up tens of thousands of dollars to blackmailers who threaten to torture and kill their family members abroad.

Swedish-Eritreans hit by blackmail torture threats

Refugees from the dictatorial regime in Eritrea who have ended up in camps in the Sinai desert in Egypt are being used to blackmail Eritrean families who have found safety in Sweden.

Lola Habtom’s 20-year-old brother was kidnapped in one of the camps. His captors then contacted her and demanded $35,000 in ransom.

“I asked them where I was going to get that kind of money,” Habtom told the TT news agency about having to listen to her kid brother cry in pain over the phone as the captors abused him.

“They said they were going to cut out my brother’s heart and kidneys.”

She managed to transfer the money, freeing her brother who was dumped in the desert to make his own way to the Israeli border. A fellow captive who was released at the same time did not make it out of the desert alive.

TT has now identified at least 20 families in Sweden who have had to go through similar ordeals. The Swedish-Eritrean human rights activist Meron Estefanos says the number is closer to 300 in Sweden alone.

Habtom, along with fellow blackmailing victims Medhanie Neraio and Tesfay Berhe, decided to speak out to raise awareness.

“The kidnappings keep happening. Any day someone might call you from the Sinai and say ‘Your brother, daughter or nephew has been abducted,'” said Neraio. His family recently paid $38,000 dollars to free a young relative.

“Everyone knows someone who’s been affected. People talk about this everyday,” said Tesfay Berhe whose brother’s grandson was abducted.

TT/The Local/at

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Swedish rights group reports Eritrea to police for ‘torture and kidnapping’

Sweden's chapter of Reporters Without Borders has filed a complaint accusing Eritrea's regime of human rights abuses over the imprisonment of Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak in 2001.

Swedish rights group reports Eritrea to police for 'torture and kidnapping'
A sign from a September 2011 demonstration for Dawit Isaak's release
The complaint was directed at Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and seven other high ranking political leaders, including Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed.
Handed over to Swedish police by RSF and Isaak's brother, the complaint accused them of “crimes against humanity, enforced disappearance, torture and kidnapping”.
It was also signed by human rights advocates like Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
On September 23, 2001, Isaak was arrested shortly after the Eritrean newspaper he founded, Setit, published articles demanding political reforms.   
According to RSF, he and his colleagues detained at the same time are now the journalists who have been imprisoned the longest in the world.
Isaak had fled to Sweden in 1987 during Eritrea's struggle against Ethiopia which eventually led to independence in 1993. He returned in 2001 to help shape the media landscape.
RSF ranks Eritrea as the world's third most repressive country when it comes to press freedom, behind North Korea and Turkmenistan.
Similar complaints have been filed before, including in 2014 when a new law took effect in Sweden enabling the prosecution for such crimes even if committed elsewhere in the world.
The prosecutor-general at the time concluded that while there were grounds to suspect a crime and open an investigation, doing so “would diminish the possibility that Dawit Isaak would be freed.”
Bjorn Tunback, coordinator for RSF Sweden's work on the Dawit Isaak case, said they hoped this time would be different after Foreign Minister Ann Linde last year said that despite repeated calls for Isaak's release “no clear changes are yet to be noted in Eritrea.”
Tunback said the minister's statements indicated that diplomatic channels had been exhausted.
“Diplomacy has its course, but when that doesn't lead anywhere, there is also the legal route,” Tunback told AFP.
“The law is there to protect individuals… and that is what we're testing now.”