The Chronicle of Higher Education
Tuesday, August 21, 2001
By HENK ROSSOUW
Eritrean authorities arrested and detained about 2,000 students at the University of Asmara this month, one of whom died last Tuesday, according to Agence France-Presse.
The university and the government say they have no knowledge of where or how many students are being detained, or the circumstances behind the death of the student. But sources within the university say that Yirga Yosef died of heat stroke after three days' detention at a camp in Wia with inadequate food or shelter from the desert sun.
According to a small group of detainees released last Tuesday, the University of Asmara students were arrested August 10 for refusing to enlist in Eritrea's summer work camp until the government frees Semere Kesete, president of their student union. The students were rounded up outside the Supreme Court, where they were waiting for Mr. Kesete to receive his hearing, and inside their dormitories. They were detained at a stadium, then herded onto buses bound for the desert.
Mr. Kesete was detained in July for publicly criticizing, during a convocation ceremony, government abuse of the university's independence, the lack of adequate facilities for higher education, and the compulsory summer work camp. A spokesman for the Eritrean government said that the university students were arrested as a reminder that they were legally obliged to enlist in the summer work camp.
If Yirga Yosef died while under government detention, then "It's out of the university's hands," said Wezenet Jewodros, the director of student academic affairs at the university.
On Saturday, 250 parents of the students who are detained at Wia, 18 miles from the port city of Massawa, waited outside the gates of the University of Asmara hoping for news of their release. Two journalists reporting on the parents' demands were arrested, and police officers dispersed the crowd.