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370 Chapter 10 The Long Arm of the Eritrean Regime in the Netherlands Klara Smits, DSP-Group & Tilburg University I don’t want to have anything to do with politics. I know people are watching you. When you share a message on Facebook, your family could be in trouble. That is why I don’t do it. You never know. (Interview, third migration wave, man) The blackmail is a problem. If anyone is still in the country, you really have a problem. (Interview, first migration wave, woman) Introduction The Eritrean diaspora is under constant surveillance from the Eritrean regime, as reported by journalist Martin Plaut (2015). The Eritrean community outside Eritrea, especially opponents of the Eritrean regime, live under constant fear and pressure (consisting of threats, intimidation and even violence) from the long arm of the regime. In addition, Eritreans living in the diaspora have to pay a ‘voluntary’ 2% tax on all of their earnings, even those who are unemployed and receiving social benefit payments. Although referred to as ‘voluntary’, this tax is gathered with the use of pressure. In the Netherlands, reports of such threats and intimidation began to spread after a major Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant, published an article in January 2016 (Bolwijn & Modderkolk, 2016). The article reported on threats to the Eritrean community, but also to those outside, including the intimidation of Dutch Professor 371 Mirjam Van Reisen and Sheila Keetharuth, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. The news article and the follow-up in the Dutch media elicited reactions from the public and Dutch politicians, who stated that the intimidation should be thoroughly investigated (Voorn, 2016). Additional attention was generated by several court cases started in the Netherlands by Meseret Bahlbi, ex-chair of the youth organisation of the Eritrean government in the Netherlands – the Young People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ) – and an activist friend (Bruyne, 2016). The first court case was held against Professor Mirjam Van Reisen, who had indicated in a radio interview that two of Bahlbi’s family members who were interpreters had ties to the Eritrean regime, therein referring to the YPFDJ as the centre of Eritrean intelligence in the Netherlands. Mr Bahbli sued Professor Van Reisen for libel and slander. The judge ruled in favour of the Dutch Professor, stating in the ruling that the YPFDJ could indeed be referred to as the extended arm of the Eritrean regime. More court cases were started against various other parties, including Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, on account of an article published by the newspaper about the intimidation mentioned above. All of the cases thus far have been decided in favour of the defendants. On 10 February 2016, the Dutch Parliament requested a letter from the minister of Foreign Affairs, the minister of Social Affairs and Employment, and the State Secretary for Security and Justice about Eritrea and the influence of the Eritrean regime in the Netherlands (Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, 2016). This letter was sent in June 2016 and was followed by a debate between the Dutch Parliament and the two ministers and state secretary mentioned above. The Dutch Parliament called for strong action from the Dutch government and adopted several resolutions that called for, among other things, investigating the Eritrean Embassy for illegal practices, referring to the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea submitted to the UN Security Council, and investigating the taxation and intimidation of Eritreans 372 in the Netherlands (Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid, 2016). In addition, the European Parliament also demanded firm action on Eritrea in its March 2016 debate and resolution on the situation in Eritrea (European Parliament, 2016). Besides its critical wording on the human rights situation in Eritrea, the resolution also addresses the long arm of the regime: 16. Urges the EU Member States to investigate the role of the PFDJ and its various wings, including the youth wing, and to prohibit all forms of association and activity that directly support control and surveillance exercises in Europe, undermine democratic principles and the rule of law, and create patterns of intimidation and extortion; urges the Member States to act to end the diaspora tax [2% tax] and to investigate the financial transactions related to any other ‘contributions’ raised by Eritrean government-linked associations abroad, and to fully protect the asylum rights of all Eritrean refugees in Europe. (European Parliament, 2016, para. 16) Following the debates and the resolution, the Dutch government commissioned a study on...


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