Stockholm Eritrean festival draws protests

5:19 min

Last weekend, the 19th Eritrea Scandinavia festival took place in Spånga, in northern Stockholm. Featuring seminars, theatre, music and food, it also drew protests against its links to the Eritrean state.

The organiser of the festival, Sirak Bahlbi, told Radio Sweden that the event had received a turnout of 5000 on Friday night.

“It's probably one of the largest Eritrean festivals in Europe,” he said.

Vanessa Berhe, an Eritrean-Swedish student from Stockholm, was in charge of the protest against the festival. Her uncle, Seyoum Tsehaye, is a journalist who has been imprisoned in Eritrea since 2001.

I’m against the festival because the organisers are the Eritrean government. This government is a dictatorship … and they are using this as a platform for their politics.”

Bahlbi stressed that the event was primarily a cultural affair. He confirmed that a number of Eritrean officials, including the foreign minister Osman Saleh, had been invited to give talks, adding that these were “open for people to ask any questions”.

Eritreans are the fifth largest group of asylum seekers in Sweden, with 531 people applying for asylum this year, as of June.

According to Christer Zettergren at the Swedish Migration Agency, one of the main reasons people flee the country is an “inhumane” military or civil national service, frequently coloured by torture and sexual violence.