“He's a well-known person in Eritrea. Many people were attending the funeral and there's some very young ones, a 13-year-old boy, among those arrested,” Sheila Keetharuth, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, told RFI.
“This is the second wave of arrests, there were arrests previously, sometime at the end of October last year,” said Keetharuth. “These arrests were in the context of a protest when the elder, who passed on, was arrested together with other members of the school committee.”
Musa had ignored orders from the government to ban Muslim girls from wearing a veil to school, stop religious teachings and introduce mixed classes, a statement from the rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council said.
She said that more than 100 people were arrested in Asmara’s Akriya neighbourhood alongside Musa during a protest against the restrictions against Al Diaa private secondary school. Eritrean security forces wielded truncheons and fired gunshots in the air, she added.
“The right to religious belief is something that is very much undermined and curtailed in Eritrea,” said Keetharuth, speaking by telephone from Geneva. “There's some very specific violations that have happened including detention, arrest and loss of life.”
“The pattern of arrests, detention without trial, etc is the modus operandi of the Eritrean government - it has been documented and recorded many times previously,” the rapporteur said, saying that other schools have been closed over recent months.
Being a secular state should not mean that freedom of religion should be curtailed, said Keetharuth. “Can they deny the fact that someone died in custody? An elderly gentleman, who was a respected elder,” she said.
“Eritrea is a secular state and exclusionist religious teachings are not allowed or part of the national curriculum,” Yemane Meskel, Eritrea’s information minister, told RFI, describing the UN rapporteur’s comments as “spurious allegations”.
“Religious institutions – Christian or Muslim, etc - can run religious teachings,” said Meskel. “But public schools are open to all citizens without discrimination,” he added.
“The school in question was in breach of these regulations,” said the information minister, saying that the Eritrean embassy had made its objections to these allegations known to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Keetharuth is “not a neutral expert”, according to Meskel, saying that she had an “agenda of regime change”.