Around 200 Eritrean asylum seekers gathered outside the Eritrean embassy in Ramat Gan on Friday, to call for an end to the political repression of President Isaias Afwerki’s regime, and for Israel to take steps to support democracy for the people of Eritrea.

Carrying signs reading “no to dictatorship, yes to democracy” and “free all political prisoners”, the protestors called for an end to the rape and torture of Eritrean asylum seekers in Sinai and drew comparisons between the Afwerki regime and those in North Africa and the Middle East that experienced regime change during the Arab Spring.

The demonstration was held on Eritrean Independence Day, and joined similar rallies in cities around the world. The demonstrations was significantly larger and more organized than one held last year on the same date.

One demonstrator, 25-year-old Filimon Razameh, said that Eritreans have drawn inspiration from the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Arab world, but that “still nothing has changed in Eritrea.”

Habtom Mehari, an MA student in environmental studies at Ben-Gurion University, read a statement that said that while Eritrean Independence Day represents “an impeccable victory against injustice, it has also become a bittersweet occasion when we are reminded that denial of rights can also come from within and hence the fight for freedom continues for Eritreans.”

He added that in Eritrea thousands of people “are detained in one of the most wide and intricate networks of prisons in the world. Every Eritrean family has been touched by the scourge of disappearances that renders loved ones untraceable for months and years on need. Torture, degrading and inhuman treatment of prisoners is so rife that most people who escape these prisons leave the country severely traumatized.”

Eritreans make up the majority of the around 60,000 illegal African migrants in Israel. They make their way to Israel after fleeing Eritrea, where men face lifelong forced army conscription in a country where political repression and corruption are rife.

The violent anti-African migrant protest in south Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood on Wednesday night was also not far from the minds of those present, and presumably among the Israeli press at the scene, most of whom were not present at last year’s protest.

David Abraham, 23, lives in the Hatikvah neighborhood and said that he and other Eritreans are afraid to leave their houses in Hatikvah at night and feel powerless and unable to go to police when attacked or threatened by native Israelis in the neighborhood.

“I love my country and want to go back, but we can’t until the situation changes there. Nobody wants to stay here in Israel, but things need to change here while we are here.”

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