A cultural festival that was sponsored by the Eritrean in a Stockholm suburb was crashed on Thursday by an estimated thousand protesters against the Eritrean government who stormed the place, resulting in at least 56 people injured, Swedish media reported.
The protesters set fire to booths and vehicles, filling the sky with smoke. They marched to the festival grounds, pushing past police barricades, using sticks and rocks as weapons. According to a Swedish police spokesperson, between 100 and 200 people were detained, and a significant police presence is still on hand while investigations are underway.
According to the findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) is the only legal party in Eritrea. Other political groups are not allowed to organize, although the unimplemented Constitution of 1997 provides for the existence of multi-party politics.
The National Assembly has 150 seats. National elections have been periodically scheduled and canceled, and as of 2022, none has ever been held in the country.
Massive rioting at the “Eritrean” festival in #Järvafältet, Stockholm, SWEDEN!!
More than a thousand #migrants stone each other and police, setting fires as they go.
You wont want to miss out on all of the activities planned ? ? pic.twitter.com/zvGV1zTvkg
— Dane (@UltraDane) August 4, 2023
President Isaias Afwerki has been in office since Eritrea’s independence in 1993, when 75 representatives were elected to the National Assembly, with the remaining 75 appointed. As the report by the United Nations Human Rights Council explained: “No national elections have taken place since that time, and no presidential elections have ever taken place. Local or regional elections have not been held since 2003–2004. President Afwerki has regularly expressed his disdain for what he refers to as “Western-style” democracy. In a 2008 interview with Al Jazeera, the president stated that “Eritrea will wait three or four decades, maybe more, before it holds elections. Who knows?”
Eritrea’s human rights record is among the worst in the world. Most countries have accused the Eritrean authorities of arbitrary arrest and detentions, and of detaining an unknown number of people without charges as retribution for their political activism.
The festival, which had been held at the same spot since the 1990s, was canceled by the park’s management last year, after finding out that there were going to be speakers there who “do not live up to the requirements we have concerning democracy and equality.”
According to Sweden’s public broadcaster SVT, Yemane Gebreab, a politician described as the right-hand man of President Afwerki, was invited to speak this year.
“This is not a festival, they are teaching their children hate speech,” Michael Kobrab, a protester against the festival, told Swedish broadcaster TV4 on Thursday.
Critics of the festival say that the Eritrean regime has earned millions of kronor from the festival, an assertion that NHCC, the organization behind the festival, denied.
Over a thousand migrants stormed an Eritrean festival in Stockholm on Thursday afternoon, throwing stones, setting fire to a marquee, and using tent poles as weapons.#Europe #Stockholm #IllegalMigrants
— Angry (@angryopinionatd) August 5, 2023
At the heart of the riots was a conflict between pro-regime festival-goers and anti-regime protesters, some of whom had traveled to Sweden from abroad to demonstrate against the festival. Some were stopped at the border. The problem started when demonstrators broke through the protective barrier police had erected around the festival and began vandalizing the tents.
“The police are at the scene to break up these criminal acts. This is about people who have chosen not to follow the instructions police have given them,” a police spokesperson said on Thursday.
“Emotions were high from the start,” a police press spokesperson said. “A fence was torn down quite early and people left the designated area of their public gathering.”