Eritrea: 28 prisoners of conscience detained 18 years ago must be immediately and unconditionally released

Amnesty International 17 September 2019

The Eritrean government must release the 11 politicians and 17 journalists who were arrested in 2001 after criticising President Isaias Afwerki’s rule, and have never been seen or heard from since, Amnesty International said today as it launched an 18-day social media campaign marking the 18th anniversary of the arrests.

The 11 politicians were arrested for writing an open letter to President Afwerki urging him to respect the constitution by holding elections and upholding the rule of law, while the 17 journalists were arrested for reporting on the politicians’ letter. None of the 28 have been seen or heard from since nor have any of them been formally charged with any offence.

“It is a travesty that this appalling injustice persists almost two decades on, more so now that Eritrea is a member of the UN Human Rights Council,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“This continued arbitrary detention shows the lengths President Isaias Afwerki’s government will go to in its unceasing attempts to crush dissent. Like hundreds of other prisoners of conscience in arbitrary detention in Eritrea, these 28 men and women are prisoners of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally.”

The launch of Amnesty International’s 18-day campaign coincides with the first anniversary of the arrest of the country’s former finance minister, Berhane Abrehe. He was arrested on 17 September 2018 after he published a book calling on citizens to peacefully campaign for democracy in the country. He has neither been seen nor heard from since.

Like many other prisoners of conscience, Berhane Abrehe is thought to be held at a secret location with absolutely no access to the outside world. His family has not been informed of his whereabouts or health status since he was arrested.

“The extent of injustice flagrantly displayed by President Isaias Afwerki and his government against these detainees and other prisoners of conscience remains deeply concerning. The world must stand with the victims and their families and not tire in calling on the Eritrean authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally,” said Seif Magango.


Among the 11 politicians arrested 18 years ago is Aster Fissehatsion, a veteran pro-independence fighter and prominent member of the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF), and her ex-husband, former vice-president and foreign minister Mahmoud Ahmed Sheriffo. Others are former foreign ministers Haile Woldetensae and Petros Solomon. Dawit Isaak and Seyoum Tsehaye, both editors and journalists for Setit, an independent publication were arrested the same day for covering the politicians’ arrests.

Petros Solomon’s wife, Aster Yohannes, returned from the USA to care for her children on learning of his arrest only to be arrested on arrival at Asmara International Airport in December 2003.

Amnesty International 17 September 2019