Eritrea Urged to Release 28 Prisoners of Conscience

ADDIS ABEBA – The Eritrean government must release the 11 politicians and 17 journalists who were arrested in 2001 after criticizing President Isaias Afwerki’s rule, and have never been seen or heard from since, Amnesty International said today.

The rights group has today 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.

The 17 journalists, on the other hand, 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, according to amnesty.

“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.

“This continued arbitrary detention shows the lengths President Isaias Afwerki’s government will go to in its unceasing attempts to crush dissent,” he continued.

“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,” he said.

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, amnesty claimed Berhane 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 world must stand with the victims and their families and not tire in calling on the Eritrean authorities to release them immediately and unconditionally,” Magango concluded.

[File/AI Photo: Berhane Abrehe]