Crimes Committed in Zemene Isaias 2003
By Eritrean Human Rights Advocacy Group (EHRAG) - Jan 04, 2004

After the conclusion of Eritrea?s 30-year armed struggle era (1961 ? 1991), it is universally accepted that every Eritrean family was affected by the struggle. Similarly, every Eritrean knows at least one person who has been arrested, made to disappear or otherwise victimized by the Isaias regime, which has now been in power for over 12 years (1991-present.)

The lesson of history is that although justice may be delayed, justice cannot be denied. There will come a time when the tyrant and his minions will be held accountable for their crimes. We will hear lies, denials, and justifications, at the higher echelons of power and ?I was only following orders? at the mid-level and lower-level functionaries of the system. Until then, we ask the long-suffering Eritrean people, who will one day be testifying against their tormentors, to pay attention to the details: the names and the identity of the criminals as the date, the time and the place of the crime scenes.

In this report, we begin with the testimonies given by Eritreans about the gross human rights violations in Eritrea that, in some cases, are coming to the surface a decade after the crimes were committed. We then follow these testimonies by documented cases of arrests, exiles and other abuses of power that the government is guilty of. It goes without saying that this is a record of documented crimes; many more remain unmentioned and will be chronicled only after the regime collapses and the people who are gripped by fear, including those who were accomplices of the system, come forward to tell their stories.


?On January (Tiri) 23, 1997, with a secret order from Abraha Kassa, the chief of the National Security Office of Eritrea, and under the direction of President Isaias Afwerki, security forces rounded up 150 Eritrean Moslem men under the guise of being collaborators with the Islamic Jihad movements. They were picked from their homes and workplaces. News coming from Asmara has confirmed that, six months after they were taken in custody, with the knowledge of both [Abraha Kassa and Isaias Afwerki] they were executed on 18 June (Sene) 1997 from 8:20 PM to 2 AM the next day. With due considerations for the security aspects of this information, we will release a follow-up [on the news].? ? January 23, 2003; TV Zete, Sweden

I was confined to a small cell. I was not allowed to meet other prisoners and was not allowed to go out in the sun. I was only talking to my guard. My hands were handcuffed behind my back for two weeks?.I would say I was in a better situation than others. Let me give you one example: Mehari tells me that a young man named Dejen Ande Hishel, an ex-student who grew up in the Revolutionary School [a school run by the EPLF during the armed struggle] and who was later a Mig-29 pilot and instructor after independence, was picked by two men from his work on March 18, 1999. Until July 2002, no one knew his whereabouts. He repeatedly asked [his jailers] what his crime was, why he was in jail and who brought him there; he never got an answer. His father and mother are combatants. His father is a lieutenant Colonel. His two elder brothers are also combatants-- that comprises the whole family. He never saw the sun. His family was allowed to visit him after [he spent] three years and five months in jail?. Where I was jailed, I know only few people: Feron Weldu, Hassen Kekya, Sunabera, Kuflom Gebremichael and Ali Alamin Ali (both worked for the American Embassy in Asmara), Ali Mohammed, Bitweded Abraha ?.Abdu Younis is in Karsheli. I also know of Aho Ali Aho, who is the Baito [regional assembly] Chairman of the South Red Sea Region; and Ali Issa Ali, Deputy Governor of the Port of Asseb. Unfortunately I don?t know where the reporters are jailed now. ? University of Asmara Student Union President Semere Kesete, Interview with, 8/15/2002

When one is arrested, there is no record of who the arresting officer is, and what the charges against the arrested are. Often, the arresting officer is reassigned and, for years, the case of the arrested is forgotten. For example, there was an employee of the American Embassy who was there for two years in the Sixth Police Station?The arresting officers had no idea why he was arrested? They are landcruisers, they are sedans, they are different cars with five different license plates: civil, government, rentals, commercial and associations. They always tell the soon-to-be jailed, ?we need you for five minutes.? Four to five years later, the detainees often will wail, ?when they brought me here, they said they need me for five minutes!? These cars, some are tinted?Once, over 30 individuals were loaded up and they were executed (?ny hywet sgumti tewesiduwom?)after being tried by a committee. They never had a day in court. Another twenty eight were sentenced for several years and sent to Sembel? This was two days before 20th of June [Martyr?s Day]. June 18, 1997. -- An Interview With Mehari Yohannes, Interview with; Mar 5, 2003

Respect for religious freedom continued to deteriorate during the period covered by this report. The Government harassed, arrested, and detained members of non-sanctioned Protestant religious groups locally referred to collectively as "Pentes," reform movements from and within the Coptic Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, and adherents of the Baha'i Faith. There were also numerous reports of forced recantations and physical torture. Only the four government-sanctioned religious groups--Orthodox Christians, Muslims, Catholics, and members of the Evangelical Church of Eritrea (which has affiliation with the Lutheran World Federation)--were allowed to meet freely during the period covered by this report. Following a May 2002 government decree that all religious groups must register or cease all religious activities, all religious facilities not belonging to the four sanctioned religious groups were closed. These closures and the restriction on holding religious meetings continued during the period covered by this report. -- International Religious Freedom Report, Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy and Labor [USA], 12/23/03


ARRESTED: 12/03. Aisha Shaker, deputy mayor of Agordat town, was arrested in December. Aisha was recently repatriated to Eritrea after a life-long exile in the Sudan.

ARRESTED: 12/03. Aster Yohannes, the wife of Petros Solomon, a member of the ?G-15?, was arrested in December as soon as her plane landed at Asmara International Airport. Her mother and four children, who were waiting for her at the airport, did not see her; they got a call from security officials asking them to pick up the luggage of Aster Yohannes.

ARRESTED: 11/03. Berhe Tesfamariam ?Wedi Mariano?, Eritrea?s head of the Water Supply Department, was detained after he asked for an exit visa to join his family in Europe. This is the second term for ?Wedi Mariano?: he had been released in 1994, after serving an unspecified jail term for a falling out with President Isaias Afwerki.

ARRESTED: 11/03. Ermias Debessay (?Papayo?), who had been released from jail only six months earlier after serving a six-year sentence, was re-arrested again. Also arrested with him was his sister, Senait Debessay, a mother of four.

ARRESTED: 11/03. Mohammed Osman, Secretary of Gash-Barka regional assembly.

ARRESTED: 11/03. Idriss, Chief Engineer of Gash-Barka?s regional government.

ARRESTED: 11/03. Colonel Yemane Fessehaye (better known as ?Wedi Reg?o?), head of the Crime Prevention Department in the police force.

ARRESTED: 11/03. Colonel Hamed ?wedi Sheikh?, former Police Chief, picked up from his residence in November of this year.

ARRESTED: 11/03. Colonel Hassen, Asmara Police Chief, arrested at his home in November.

ARRESTED: 11/03. ?Wedi Haleka?, Police Chief of the 6th Precinct in Asmara.

ARRESTED: 07/03. Brig-General Habtezion Hadgu, former Commander of Eritrean Air Force. Habtezion Hadgu had been out of jail for only two months before his re-arrest. A young officer, Captain Amare, was also arrested.

ARRESTED: 07/03. Mr. Ibrahim Saeed, Director General for Relief and Logistics in the Eritrean Relief and Refugee Commission (ERREC).

ARRESTED: 07/03. Solomon Habtom, the government?s Director of Communication. His wife, Asgedet Semere, was released from jail in November 2002.

ARRESTED: 07/03. Akhlilu Solomon, a stringer for Voice of America. He had described Eritrean parents who lost their children in the two-year war with Ethiopia as grief stricken and overwhelmed with sorrow. Akhlilu?s report contradicted the official government news media?s version, which portrayed the parents as stoically accepting the death of their children or, in some cases, proudly welcoming it.

ARRESTED. 06/03. Ahmed Ali Burhan, Eritrea?s former ambassador to Kuwait.

ARRESTED. 06/03. Colonel Fiory, chief of Godaif Police Station, was arrested at his home. No charges have been filed to date. The veteran, who is hearing-impaired, was known to be a critic of the government.

ARRESTED. 04/03. Teweldemedhin Tesfamariam, Eritrea?s ambassador to Kenya as well as head of Africa Desk within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was recalled to Eritrea and arrested without charges. He remains arrested, and incommunicado.

ARRESTED. 04/03. Haleqa Mebrahtu, an intelligence officer, was arrested without charges. He remains in detention, and incommunicado.

ARRESTED. 04/03. Hadas and Amanuel Haile, two elders of Eritrea?s Jehovah?s Witness community, were arrested at their house of worship while celebrating the Last Supper. Since 1993, when members of the Jehovah?s Witness, citing religious reasons, refused to participate in the voluntary referendum vote and 1995, when the ?national service? proclamation was passed and the Jehovah?s Witnesses refused to serve in the military for religious reasons, members of JW have received various forms of state-sanctioned punishment and ostracization, including indefinite arrests and revocation of business licenses. Ms. Hadas and Mr. Amanuel Haile join other JW members who have been in jail, without charges, sine 1993.


Malta: 12/03. About 70 Eritreans who are being held at a detention camp in Malta were given a release in December after human rights activists prevailed on authorities that they face certain disappearance and worse if they were to be deported back to Eritrea.

Libya: 9/03. Zakarias Mikael, Misghina Seyoum and Mikael Yemane were beaten severely by Libyan authorities for peacefully demonstrating against the killing of Biniam Abraha.

South Africa: 06/03. Eritrean university students in South Africa, Isaac Habte and his fianc?Rahel, were deported by South African authorities to Eritrea and immediately arrested after they attempted to get an exit visa to travel out of South Africa. Also arrested in South Africa were Yared Tekaa and Solomon Russom. Mr. Solomon Russom had a won a temporary victory at the court and the win had secured him a temporary relief until his scheduled deportation hearing. This happened shortly after Eritrea?s ambassador to South Africa called all 600 students in South Africa to meetings and threatened them that his government has blocked all possible ways for people who want to ?flee? to Europe or the United States.


DIED: 12/03. Dr. Alexander Naty, Professor at the University of Asmara, of cerebral malaria. Only two months earlier, Dr. Naty had been fired from his job for attending an ?un-authorized? conference in Germany.

DIED: 9/03. Biniam Abraha, 26, in a Libyan jail. Biniam had been apprehended by Libyan authorities while trying to cross the Mediterranean to Malta or Italy.

DIED: 8/03. Idris Mohammed Adem, a founding member of the Eritrean Liberation Front and a parliamentarian during Eritrea?s federation with Ethiopia, died in Saudi Arabia. Despite his long service to the cause of Eritrean independence, Mr. Idris Mohammed Adem never visited a post-independent Eritrea.

DIED: 05/03. Fitewrari Hedad Kerar died after he was denied exit visa to travel abroad to get medical attention. Mr. Hedad Kerar had been briefly detained in June 2001 after he gave a public speech at Asmara?s main mosque commemorating Mewlid Anebi. (Prophet?s Birthday). He was also interrogated and placed under house arrest after he joined other elders in mediation efforts to reconcile the two feuding sides of the PFDJ. The limitation on his movement was so strict he could not attend the burial ceremony of his own mother who lived in Keren.

DIED. 04/03. Mohammed Ahmed Abdu, one of the founders of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and a member of its General Command, died in exile in the Sudan. He had never returned to Eritrea, because he was unwilling to accept the pre-condition for return: to disavow organized political activity.


DISMISSED: 11/03. Dr. Kifleyesus, Department Head of the University of Asmara?s Management Department, Business School, was given an ?involuntary leave? from his job.

DISMISSED: 10/03. Dr. Abdulkader Saleh and Dr. Alexander Naty, both professors at the University of Asmara, were fired from their jobs and asked to surrender their passports for participating in an ?unauthorized? academic conference in Hamburg, Germany.


EXILED: 12/03. Abdella Mohammed Ali, head of consular affairs in the Eritrean embassy in Khartoum chose exile rather than return to Eritrea and face a high likelihood of disappearance/imprisonment.

EXILED: 8/03. Kibreab Habteselasse, Eritrea? Political Officer at the United Nations, left his post and is seeking political asylum.

EXILED: 8/03. Journalist Alula Unqubahri, who managed to escape Eritrea before the closure of the private press and wholesale arrest of the reporters, was granted political asylum in Germany.

EXILED: 07/03. Exiled journalists Khaled Abdu (Admas newspaper) and Aaron Berhane (Seit newspaper), both former members of Eritrea?s independent press, received Human Rights Watch (HRW)? 2003 Hellman-Hammet Grant.

EXILED. 05/03. The government?s immigration office began a new practice of requiring exit visas from all Eritreans, including those who had gone on a summer visit to Eritrea. Fulfilling ?national service??the 18month military service that, in many cases, has now extended to over five years, is a precondition for receiving exit visas. Those who did not ?fulfill? the obligation are denied an exit visa and hauled to Sawa, the military camp. This policy effectively exiles many Eritreans who will not return to Eritrea for fear of forceful conscription.

EXILED: 04/03. A prominent businessman by the name of Mohammed Said Nasser, was arrested from his residence in the Sembel housing project. He escaped from jail and is now exiled in the Sudan. PFDJ?s Red Sea Trading Corporation (RSTC/ ?09?) has expropriated the businesses that were owned by Mr. Mohammed Said Nasser, Gash Investment Company and Setit General Trading. He had rejected the offer of RSTC/ ?09?) to partner with his firm; when he declined the offer, he was accused of being "a corrupt businessman who didn?t pay taxes?.

EXILED: 02/03. Mohammed Nur Osman ?Degaulle?, Eritrea?s Consul General in Riyadh, resigned his post and refused to accept a recall to Eritrea.

EXILED: 02/03. Mohammed Burhan Abdulkader, Eritrea?s First Secretary, Embassy of Eritrea in Egypt, resigned his post and refused to accept a recall to Eritrea.


MERGED: 05/03. Sawa Military Academy and Eritrea High Schools. The government announced that all students who completed Grade 11 to report to Sawa by June 30. The government explained that this was a result of its re-assessment of its education curriculum and that henceforth, effective the 2003-04 semester, it was introducing 12th grade, while will be offering only at its military compound in Sawa. All students who graduated from 11th grade?including foreign nationals?are expected to go to Sawa. Eritreans would receive three months of military training preceding their enrollment in 12th grade. Parents would be assessed 2000 Nakfas for the dorm services. Following this announcement, many students, particularly women, sabotaged themselves and deliberately failed classes so they would not be sent to Sawa. Many more who did not voluntarily report were rounded up in the infamous ?gffa? and shipped to Sawa. ?Sawa High School? is now 95% male.

EVICTED: 05/03. The Eritrean government forcibly evicted citizens and expropriated their homes in the islands of Massawa and Twalot as well as the Gherar peninsula, which stations the naval base. The residents have been ordered to move further inland to Massawa proper (Edaga), an order many have been unable to follow due to the housing shortage.!Open

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