During the year scores of political prisoners were detained without charge or trial. Over 100 political prisoners detained in previous years remained in detention without charge or trial. Scores of detainees who had been held since 1991 were secretly tried and sentenced to prison terms after unfair trials. The fate of at least a dozen people who "disappeared" in 1991 and 1992 remained unknown. There were fears that some may have been extrajudicially executed. President Issayas Afewerki's Government continued to face armed opposition from the Sudan-based Eritrean Islamic Jihad group. Eritrea was also involved in a territorial dispute with Yemen over the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea, in which the French Government sought to mediate. Conscription remained in force (see Amnesty International Report 1996) with no provision for conscientious objection. Members of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious group remained without citizenship rights (see Amnesty International Report 1996). There was no independent press. A new press law enacted in June proclaimed the freedom of the press but provided for penalties, including imprisonment, for offences which could include exercising the right to freedom of expression. No opposition organization was permitted. The People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), formerly the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), remained the only permitted political party. The first draft of a constitution for Eritrea, containing restrictions on the right to form political parties, was approved by a parliament consisting mainly of PFDJ officials. Eritrea was one of only two African states not to have ratified the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Information came to light that a group of people from the Jaberti community detained without charge or trial for some two years had been released by early 1996 (see previous Amnesty International Reports). During the year scores of political prisoners were detained without charge or trial. There were reports of arrests of suspected government opponents linked to the Eritrean Islamic Jihad group and the different Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) groups. Several Sudanese nationals were detained on suspicion of passing information to the Sudanese authorities about a Sudanese opposition organization operating from Eritrea. Over 100 political detainees, including possible prisoners of conscience, were believed to be held without charge or trial, many incommunicado and some since 1991 when the EPLF came to power. Scores of Eritrean former members of the Ethiopian security forces and civilian administration who had been detained in 1991 were secretly tried by military tribunals in early 1996. The charges were not disclosed, but may have included human rights crimes. They did not receive fair trials and had no right to legal representation or appeal. Many were sentenced to long prison terms. The authorities continued to deny that at least a dozen people who had been abducted from Ethiopia and Sudan in 1991 and 1992 were in their custody, which increased fears that some might have been extrajudicially executed. Amnesty International called for all political detainees to be given fair and prompt trials or to be released. The organization expressed concern about the secret trials of former officials, but received no reply. It urged the government to allow all detainees access to their families and to lawyers, and renewed its calls for investigations into "disappearances".

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