By Ashraf Shazly, AFP
The letter highlighted the plight of tens of thousands of Eritreans who have fled across the heavily guarded border into neighbouring nations, running away from open-ended conscription and the iron-grip rule of President Issaias Afeworki.
Such outspoken views are rarely heard from inside Eritrea, ranked worst in the world for press freedom by the rights group Reporters Without Borders.
“There is no reason to search for a country of honey if you are in one,” the letter in Eritrea’s Tigrinya language read, according to a translation from the opposition website Awate.com.
Eritrea’s youth were leaving in search of “peaceful countries, to countries of justice, of work, where one expresses himself loudly, a country where one works and earns,” the letter added, signed by four bishops from the country’s influential Coptic Orthodox Church.
The UN estimates as many as 3,000 Eritreans flood into Sudan and Ethiopia every month, from a country of some five million people and about the size of England.
“On top of the crisis of people leaving their country, the family unit is fragmented because members are scattered in (national) service, army, rehabilitation centres, prisons,” the lengthy letter read.
“Aged parents are left with no one to care for them, and have been spiritually damaged. And all that combined is making the country desolate,” it added.
There was no immediate response from Eritrea’s Ministry of Information.
The four bishops, from Eritrea’s Christian Orthodox church are Mengsteab Tesfamariam, bishop of the capital Asmara, as well as Tomas Osman of Barentu, Kidane Yeabio of Keren and Feqremariam Hagos of Segeneti.
Rights groups say scores of political prisoners are held in brutal desert camps without trial.
“All those who are arrested should first be handled humanely and sympathetically, and then, based on the accusations against them, they should be presented to a court,” the letter added.
The letter was issued last month for Eritrea’s 23rd anniversary of independence from arch-foe Ethiopia, but was only released on the Awate.com site this month.