Swedish parliament debates Eritrea’s tax on exilesMarch 2nd, 2012
Last week, the Swedish Riksdag (Parliament) discussed the 2% diaspora tax levied on all Eritreans overseas by the Government of Eritrea. All Eritreans living abroad are forced to pay two percent of their annual income to the government in order to be able to pay visits to the country to see their families, send money back home or otherwise use any Eritrean facilities.
The taxes have been described in a UN report as the largest source of income for the Eritrean government, and as one of the sources to provide for Eritrea’s sponsorship of the Al Qaeda affiliate, Al-Shabaab in Somalia, and of other opposition groups Eritrea supports in its widespread efforts to destabilize peace and stability in the Horn of Africa. Many Eritreans object to the tax and a number of those living in Sweden filed a report with the police last November claiming that the practice amounted to tax collection by extortion. The International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm is currently looking to open a preliminary investigation.
During the session the Riksdag voted on three motions proposing a ban on taxation of citizens resident in Sweden by Eritrea. It is clear a majority of the Riksdag was against the Eritrean government collecting taxes in this way. Members of Parliament and of the Parliamentary Committee on Justice said that if Swedish law did not currently forbid the practice, then the rules needed to be tightened. The Vice-Chair of the Committee on Justice, John Linander, said firmly that forced tax collection from Eritreans living abroad was not acceptable. "We are willing to take measures if current legislation can’t put a stop to this," he added.
Meanwhile, Eritrea continues to hold Swedish-Eritrean journalist, Dawit Isaak, in detention without charge or trial as it has for the last ten years, most of the time incommunicado. After Eritrea’s independence, Dawit returned to Eritrea to co-found Setit, the country’s first independent newspaper. In 2001, it was closed down as part of a major clampdown which obliterated press freedom, suspended civil liberties, and sent scores of journalists to prison as well as detaining a number of senior ministers from the G 15, and other officials. Last October Dawit was awarded the 50th anniversary Golden Pen of Freedom, the annual press freedom prize of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers but there has been no news on his whereabouts since 2005. His family has been barred from visiting and he has disappeared into the silence of the Eritrean prison system. Eritrea ranks last on the Reporters Without Borders "World Press Freedom Index." In a controversial Swedish interview in 2009, President Isaias made it clear that he regarded Dawit Isaak's status as a dual citizen of Sweden as of little consequence. He said there were no plans to respond to repeated Swedish requests to free him. "We will not have any trial and we will not free him," he said. "We know how to handle his kind." --MFA