By Daniel M. Austin
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – On Friday, September 16, human rights group Amnesty International and the European Parliament called on the Eritrean government to release 11 former government officials who have been held incommunicado since 2001. The 12 detainees have not had any contact with the outside world since their arrest and none of the detainees have been formally charged with a crime since their detention began. Amnesty International is using the 10 year anniversary of the detainees’ arrest to remind international observers of President Isaias Afewerki’s repressive regime including the butal tactics that have been used to stifle freedom of expression and silence opposition figures.
The 11 detainees are described by Amnesty International as “prisoners of conscience.” The former government officials include Vice President Mahmoud Sherifo, Foreign Minister Haile Woldetensae, military Chief-of-staff Ogbe Abraha and several other officials who criticized President Isaias Afewerki and asked for democratic reforms.
Amnesty International is demanding: “The Eritrean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release 11 prominent politicians, including three former cabinet ministers, who have been held incommunicado without charge for 10 years.” Along with calling for the release of these prisoners, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Africa, Michelle Kagari is calling on the Eritrean government to provide the detainees with appropriate medical care, access to attorneys, and family members of the detainees with the location or prison where they loved ones are being held.
Along with calling for the release of these prisoners, Amnesty International is also highlighting the prison conditions under which these detainees are being housed. Amnesty International describes the prison system in Eritrea as “notoriously dire.” In particular, inmates are housed in underground cells or in shipping containers, subject to extreme desert temperatures.
According to an Eritrean government official, Presidential adviser, Yemane Gebreab, the 11 people held in connection with the 2001 incident were not calling for government reforms but were arrested for threatening Eritrea’s national security. Mr. Gebreab told BBC’s Focus on Africa programme, “If they had succeeded in their plans Eritrea today would no longer exist as an independent sovereign state, or it would have been another Somalia.”
Consistently considered one of the world’s worst human rights offenders, Eritrea has repeatedly denied allegations of human rights abuses and has frequently denounced human rights workers as spies working for foreign intelligence agencies.
For more information, please see:
BBC News — Eritrea urged to free dissident Aster Fissehatsion – 16 September 2011
Reuters Africa — Amnesty calls for release of Eritrea officials – 16 September 2011
StarAFrica.com — Eritrea / Prisoners of conscience held for a decade must be released – 16 September 2011
Voice of America — Amnesty Intl; Demands Freedom for 11 Eritrean Politicians, Jailed Since 2001 – 15 September 2011