Eritrea's hardline regime has jailed at least 10,000political prisoners, many in "unimaginably atrocious conditions",rights group Amnesty International said in a report Thursday criticising thesituation in the Red Sea state.
With political opposition banned, independent media quashedand religious minorities targeted, the ex-rebel government uses a system ofunderground cells and shipping containers to house the prisoners, the reportread.
"The government has systematically used arbitraryarrest and detention without charge to crush all opposition, to silence alldissent, and to punish anyone who refuses to comply with the repressiverestrictions it places on people's lives," said Claire Beston, Amnesty'sEritrea researcher.
The report says "at least 10,000" prisoners have"disappeared into secret and incommunicado detention" in the Horn of Africanation, but warns it is impossible to know the exact figure.
The report was released ahead of Eritrea's celebrations of20 years of independence on May 24, which followed an overwhelmingly vote bythe people to split from arch-foe Ethiopia after years of bitter war.
Eritrean rebels battled far better equipped Ethiopian troops-- backed first by the United States, then the Soviet Union -- for threedecades until victory in 1991, which was followed by a referendum two yearslater.
A subsequent border conflict with Ethiopia from 1998-2000still simmers, which analysts say Asmara uses as an excuse for its continuediron-rule.
"Twenty years on from the euphoric celebrations ofindependence, Eritrea is one of the most repressive, secretive and inaccessiblecountries in the world," Beston added.
Opposition parties are banned and anyone who challengesPresident Issaias Afeworki is jailed without trial, often in the harshest ofconditions.
Reporters Without Borders lists Eritrea below North Korea asthe worst country in the world for press freedom.
"In the vast majority of cases, the prisoners' familiesare not informed of their whereabouts, and often never hear from their relativeagain after they are arrested," Amnesty added. "Torture forpunishment, interrogation and coercion is widespread."
There was no immediate response from Asmara.