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Amnesty urges release of political prisoners in Eritrea

5/24/2005 6:44am

NAIROBI, May 23 (AFP) -- Human rights watchdog Amnesty International called Monday for the government of Eritrea to release thousands of political prisoners to mark the country's independence celebrations this week.

As the Horn of Africa nation prepares to commemorate the 14th anniversary of independence from Ethiopia on Tuesday, Amnesty said the Eritrean leadership should release the prisoners or at least ensure fair trials for them.

"As Eritrea celebrates ... independence on May 24, large numbers of prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners -- possibly amounting to several thousands -- languish in indefinite incommunicado detention, held without charge or trial and without access to friends, family or lawyers," it said in a statement received here.

"Amnesty International urges President Isaias Afwerki to use the occasion of the anniversary of Eritrean independence to release all prisoners of conscience and ensure the fair trial of all other political prisoners," the London-based group said.

In particular, Amnesty urged the immediate release of six women it said had been imprisoned between 2001 and 2003 without trial or access to lawyers or families "solely on account of their peaceful opinions."

It identified the women, whose whereabouts are unknown, as former officials and leading members of the liberation struggle turned dissidents, an evangelical singer, a journalist and a folklorist.

Eritrean officials could not immediately be reached to comment on the statement, but routinely denounce complaints of human rights violations as "baseless."

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