SEPTEMBER 14, 2021  NEWSPOLITICAL PRISONERS

20th ANNIVERSARY – PRESS AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION CLAMPDOWN IN ERITREA

Eritrea Media Suppression

By Siyad Arts @artssiyad (a political cartoonist who believes arts has power to change the world).

PHOTO EXHIBITION – 18 to 19 September 2021 10.30am to 4.30pm

17 September 2021 at 5pm: Exhibition Opening by Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North and Vice-Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Eritrea

At Resources for London, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA

Eritrea – bordering on the Red Sea – has been fought over for generations. Colonised by Italy, it was forcibly united with Ethiopia after the Second World War. Deprived of many of their freedoms, and suffering egregious extrajudicial killings, its people rose in revolt.

After a liberation struggle lasting 30 years, Eritreans finally won their independence in 1991. But a further border war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000 and a ruthless internal crackdown plunged the nation into dictatorship and repression. Eritreans have fled their country in their hundreds of thousands, seeking refuge in neighbouring states, or drowning in the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach sanctuary in Europe or the USA.

Today Eritrea finds itself engaged in another bloody war in Ethiopia, between the Tigrayans and the Federal Government. Eritreans, along with Ethiopians and Amhara militia have committed despicable atrocities since the outbreak of the war in November 2020, including systematic attacks and abduction of Eritrean refugees in Tigray. Thousands of Eritrean troops have been killed in this unnecessary war, instigated by Prime Minister Abiy and the unelected president of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki. All in the name of the “Peace Accord” signed by the two countries in 2018. There is no prospect of the war ending soon, despite appeals for peace from the international community and the UN.

Following the end of the border war with Ethiopia, on 18 September 2001, the Government of Eritrea banned all independent media outlets and incarcerated all but the most compliant journalists. Government critics were also rounded up and detained without trial in the most brutal of prisons.

The journalists and political activists who were arrested twenty years ago have not been seen or heard of since. We mourn their loss and demand their freedom.

For further information, please contact:

Eritrea Focus

Post: 2 Thorpe Close, Ladbrooke Grove, London W10 5XL

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Website: https://eritrea-focus.org

Tel: +44 (0) 7949 700 412

POLITICS

PUBLISHED MON, SEP 13 20211:27 AM EDTUPDATED MON, SEP 13 20212:15 AM EDT

@ELLIOTSMITHCNBC
 
KEY POINTS
  • In the past two months alone, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with Nigeria and Ethiopia, Africa’s two most populous nations.
  • The U.S. has pledged to reignite its economic and commercial engagements in Africa, but a planned drawback of troops is giving way to extensive spending on operational bases and longer-term plans to sustain a strategic presence.
  • France maintains the largest presence and troop numbers of any former colonial power in Africa.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - August 8, 2020: Ethiopians hold up a poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-government gathering condemning the rebel Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - August 8, 2020: Ethiopians hold up a poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-government gathering condemning the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia is challenging the status quo in Africa, using insecurity and diplomatic disputes with Western powers as a springboard to expand its presence on the continent.

From Libya to Nigeria, Ethiopia to Mali, Moscow has been building key strategic military alliances and an increasingly favorable public profile across Africa in recent years. 

Central to this effort is offering alternatives to countries that have grown disgruntled with Western diplomatic partnerships.

The second Russia-Africa Summit is scheduled for 2022. At the inaugural summit in Sochi in 2019, President Vladimir Putin vowed that Russia was “not going to participate in a new ‘repartition’ of the continent’s wealth; rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa.”

Via the U.N., Russia has also provided aid in the form food and medical assistance alongside its growing commercial, economic and military support across the continent.

Russia’s bilateral push

In the past two months alone, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with Nigeria and Ethiopia, Africa’s two most populous nations.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that Africa accounted for 18% of Russian arms exports between 2016 and 2020.

Russian mercenaries have also provided direct assistance to governments in Libya and the Central African Republic, according to the U.N. However, the Kremlin has denied links to the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization alleged by the U.N. to be aiding human rights abuses in the region.

“A group of Russian instructors was sent to the CAR at the request of its leaders and with the knowledge of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on the CAR established by Resolution 2127,” a Russian foreign ministry statement said in July. “Indicatively, none of them has taken part in combat operations.”

Reuters reported in July that U.S. lawmakers had stalled a planned $1 billion weapons sale to Nigeria over allegations of human rights abuses by the government.  

Less than a month later, Russia signed a deal with President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to supply military equipment, training and technology to Nigerian forces.

MOSCOW - Members of a Nigerian delegation inspect a Russian Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunter military helicopter during the opening day of the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon at Zhukovsky outside Moscow on July 20, 2021.
MOSCOW - Members of a Nigerian delegation inspect a Russian Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunter military helicopter during the opening day of the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon at Zhukovsky outside Moscow on July 20, 2021.
DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Although historically a key diplomatic and trade partner of the U.S., Buhari’s government found itself at odds with Washington amid the #EndSARS protests in 2020, and again after a recent fallout with Twitter.

Meanwhile, Islamist militant groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province have cotinued to wreak havoc in the northeast of the country. 

This confluence of factors paving the way for Russian influence-building was also at play in Ethiopia. Russia has provided support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government after Western governments balked at his forces’ military response to an insurgency in northern Tigray. 

Ethiopia felt the U.S. in particular was aligning with Egypt in the ongoing dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken further evoked the ire of Addis Ababa in March by accusing forces in Tigray of “ethnic cleansing.” 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov then met with Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnen in June. Moscow proceeded with the deployment of election observers to Ethiopia, whereas the EU withdrew its observers, citing “ongoing violence across the country, human rights violations and political tensions, harassment of media workers and detained opposition members.”

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 23, 2019: Ethiopia' Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (4th L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) during Russian-Ethiopian talks on the sidelines of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art.
SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 23, 2019: Ethiopia’ Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (4th L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) during Russian-Ethiopian talks on the sidelines of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art.
Donat Sorokin\TASS via Getty Images

Russia has supplied strategic weapons both as a potential defense against any Egyptian strike on the GERD and to aid government forces in Tigray. 

“Gains by the Tigray Defence Force (TDF), which has captured parts of the Afar and Amhara regions in recent weeks, make the provision of desperately needed weapons all the more important for Addis Ababa, and Moscow is likely to oblige to such a request, possibly on a buy-now-pay-later basis,” said Louw Nel, senior political analyst at NKC African Economics.  

In what Nel flagged as a “sign of things to come,” Ethiopia and Russia signed a military cooperation agreement in July, focused specifically on knowledge and technology transfers. However, Nel noted that Ethiopia will be “wary of allowing Russian personnel to be deployed there in anything other than a training capacity.” 

Russia’s foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

U.S. ‘creeping build-up’ 

The U.S. has pledged to reignite its economic and commercial engagements in Africa, but a planned drawback of troops is giving way to extensive spending on operational bases and longer-term plans to sustain a strategic presence, according to a recent report from risk intelligence firm Pangea-Risk. 

In 2018, then-U.S. national security advisor John Bolton singled out Russia’s expansionist “influence across Africa,” and Washington has been keen to retain a foothold on the continent.

The Biden administration is set to maintain the U.S. military’s 27 operational outposts on the continent, while the country’s Africa Command (Africom) is prioritizing counter-terrorism objectives in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel regions.

The U.S. is also establishing a presence in other strategically important regions, such as the Red Sea and the Gulf of Guinea. Some $330 million is reportedly being spent by 2025 on U.S. military base construction and related infrastructure projects, while Africom is drawing up a 20-year strategic plan. 

This will focus on counterterrorism, special forces operations and humanitarian support, along with safeguarding U.S. commercial interests in the face of growing Chinese and Russian presence. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and staff members participate in a virtual bilateral meeting with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari during a videoconference at the State Department in Washington, DC on April 27, 2021.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and staff members participate in a virtual bilateral meeting with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari during a videoconference at the State Department in Washington, DC on April 27, 2021.
LEAH MILLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The report noted that Cape Verdean authorities have since July 2020 agreed a Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. military to allow U.S. troops to operate from its archipelago. 

“Such an agreement makes sense given global geo-political competition in the West African region and the need to counter the growing risk of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, both of which pose an existential threat to U.S. commercial interests,” Pangea-Risk CEO Robert Besseling said. 

“However, the one-year-old SOFA with Cape Verde raises questions over broader U.S. diplomatic and judicial engagements in the country, and whether this sets a pattern for U.S.–Africa relations going forward.” 

International Crisis Group Africa Program Director Comfort Ero, has said the “creeping build-up” of U.S. military on the continent was accompanied by mixed messaging, accusing both the U.S. and African governments of a lack of transparency. 

The U.S. is likely to phase out its direct military presence in insecurity hotspots, but continues to seek SOFA deals with countries of strategic importance, Pangea-Risk said, adding that Washington will be reluctant to withdraw entirely due to Chinese and Russian presence. 

France struggles in the Sahel 

France maintains the largest presence and troop numbers of any former colonial power in Africa, particularly in the form of 5,100 troops in the Sahel, where the border area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet has become a hotspot for violence. 

“Paris is inconsistent in its treatment of friendly regimes, indulging an unconstitutional transfer of power in Chad but taking a harder line following a coup in Mali,” said NKC’s Nel. 

French President Emmanuel Macron supported a military-led transition from Chadian President Idriss Deby, who was killed in battle with rebel forces in April, to his son. This violated the country’s constitution and led to anti-French protests and the vandalism of a Total petrol station. 

PAU, France - French President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes Chad's President Idriss Deby prior to a summit on the situation in the Sahel region in the southern French city of Pau on January 13, 2020.
PAU, France - French President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes Chad’s President Idriss Deby prior to a summit on the situation in the Sahel region in the southern French city of Pau on January 13, 2020.
GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images

However, when Colonel Assimi Goïta established military rule in Mali, Macron denounced the coup and suspended a joint military operation with the Malian army. Protests in the aftermath were also hostile toward France, while Russian flags and posters were visible. 

“Given the clear negative trend in political stability in Mali, there is reason to consider the danger that it might end up looking like the CAR, where President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s weak government is essentially kept in place by Russian muscle: the mercenaries of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group,” Nel said. 

Source=Russia is building military influence in Africa, challenging U.S., France (cnbc.com)

SEPTEMBER 13, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWSTIGRAY

Working toward a ceasefire in Ethiopia

Source: ICG

The conflict centred around Ethiopia’s Tigray region between the federal government and Tigray forces has already created a severe humanitarian crisis, which is likely to worsen with the fighting in a dangerous new phase. The UN has been active in engaging with Ethiopian stakeholders but needs to do more to urge all parties – including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigray’s leadership – to back off from the battlefield, where an expanding war could easily cause massive casualties.

Since the conflict started in November 2020, neither the federal government nor Tigray’s forces have exhibited willingness to unconditionally pause hostilities and pursue dialogue. The consequence has been a dire humanitarian emergency where, according to the UN, over five million people in the region are in need of assistance. Some 400,000 of them are acutely food-insecure. The fighting has also interrupted the planting season, with harvests estimated at only about 25-50 per cent of average levels. After withdrawing from most of the region in late June, federal authorities have blockaded Tigray, in effect, cutting off telecommunications, electricity and banking services.

On the battlefield, the Tigray forces have been buoyed by forcing federal Ethiopian troops to depart Tigray region and have made incursions since mid-July into the neighbouring Afar region to the east and Amhara region to the south. These manoeuvres – which could cut off a critical trade route to Djibouti – are partly aimed at pressuring Addis Ababa into accepting the Tigray forces’ terms for a deal, including formation of a transitional government. The Tigrayans have nonetheless met stiff resistance and have not achieved all their military objectives. The federal government, meanwhile, has responded to its military setbacks and the Tigray offensive by enlisting paramilitaries from other regions, launching a mass mobilisation campaign and calling on “all eligible civilians” to sign up for the national army. Since November, Eritrea’s military has lined up alongside Ethiopia’s, while Amhara regional forces are still occupying territory in western Tigray.

The unwavering commitment by all sides to pursuing a military solution threatens not just many more deaths but also the Ethiopian state itself. Addis Ababa has employed dangerous rhetoric antagonising Tigrayans while calling on civilians to join the fighting. This fervour, combined with decades-long resentment of Tigrayan leaders for their part in a period of authoritarian rule, could lead to further serious fractures in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, a continuing advance by the Tigray forces could lead to thousands more deaths, bring a widening humanitarian crisis and ratchet up domestic pressure on Abiy, which – while still unlikely in the short term – could lead to an alarming implosion in Addis Ababa and an ensuing power struggle with serious risks of a broader breakdown. These factors warrant a commensurate response from international actors, including the UN, which needs to impress on all parties the need to quickly de-escalate before the situation deteriorates further.

Building on his 26 August statement to the Security Council emphasising that “the unity of Ethiopia and the stability of the region are at stake”, Secretary-General Guterres should adopt an increasingly assertive approach to the crisis. He should use his channels in Addis Ababa, especially his direct contacts with Abiy, to underscore the urgent risks of a wider conflict that could have consequences far outside Tigray. The secretary-general should counsel Abiy to drop his resistance to negotiating with Tigray’s leaders and urge both sides to cast their military plans aside in favour of a deal. Diplomats from the U.S., the European Union (EU), Germany, France and the UK should back up the UN initiative with outreach to, primarily, Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, a key interlocutor for international actors, to convey the same messages about the need for a pact.

Such an agreement could have several elements. The secretary-general should call on the federal government to lift its de facto blockade of Tigray and restore basic services while granting humanitarian agencies access to Tigray – if Tigrayan leaders freeze their military operations and soften their negotiating positions. A core Tigray demand is the withdrawal from western Tigray of all Amhara forces and administrators who moved in at the outset of fighting in November as well as the exit of all federal and Eritrean forces from the region. Guterres should urge the Tigrayan side to give federal, Amhara and Eritrean leaders time to complete these steps rather than trying to achieve them via military means. In exchange for a withdrawal, Tigray’s leaders could commit to politically addressing the territorial dispute over western Tigray with the Amhara region in the future and also dropping their demands for a transitional government involving Abiy’s departure.

The Tigray conflict has expanded to a worrying scale. Leaders in both Addis Ababa and Mekelle have so far been unresponsive to external diplomatic initiatives. This is all the more reason for the UN to step up its efforts, conscious of the considerable risks ahead if the conflict continues along its present trajectory.

The United States remains gravely concerned by ongoing conflict in multiple regions of Ethiopia.  Reports of continued human rights abuses and atrocities by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Eritrean Defense Forces, Amhara regional and irregular forces, the TPLF and other armed groups, including the reported attack on civilians in one village in Amhara region this week, are deeply disturbing.  We condemn all such abuses against civilians in the strongest possible terms and call on all parties to the conflict to respect human rights and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

We agree with the UN Secretary-General and African Union leaders: there is no military solution to the conflict in northern Ethiopia, and a durable political solution must be found.  We urge the Ethiopian government and TPLF to enter at once into negotiations without preconditions toward a sustainable ceasefire.

The mounting reports of human rights abuses underscore the urgency of independent and credible international investigations.  It is essential that the Ethiopian government and all other parties to the conflict provide and facilitate the access necessary for such investigations.  We look forward to an update from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the forty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Tigray and to the release of the joint investigation report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the earliest possible opportunity.  We also urge full cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry of the AU Commission on Human and People’s Rights.  Establishing transparent, independent mechanisms to hold those responsible for human rights abuses to account is critical to political reconciliation and peace in Ethiopia.

Source=Ongoing Conflict and Human Rights Abuses in Northern Ethiopia - United States Department of State

News and Press Release
 
Source
 
Posted
10 Sep 2021
 
Originally published
10 Sep 2021
 
Origin
View original

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has suspended all activities in the Amhara, Gambella and Somali regions of Ethiopia, as well as in the west and northwest of Tigray region, to comply with a three-month suspension order from the Ethiopian Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO) on 30 July.

On receipt of the order, MSF undertook all required action to comply with ACSO’s request while their investigation is ongoing, including putting all medical and humanitarian programmes into full suspension for a period of three months. At short notice, patients have been discharged from MSF clinics, leaving people in these locations with even further limited access to healthcare. A team of nearly 1,000 Ethiopian staff are also on standby at home, while nearly all international staff have left the country.

In the first six months of 2021, in the four regions where MSF has now suspended activities, MSF teams provided 212,000 men, women and children with outpatient consultations, admitted 3,900 individuals for specialised care, provided 3,300 people with mental health consultations and assisted 1,500 women in the delivery of their babies.

The order to suspend our medical and humanitarian assistance comes at a time when the humanitarian needs in Ethiopia are enormous, with millions of people in need of food, water, shelter and access to healthcare across the country.

In the locations where MSF can no longer assist, in west and northwest Tigray, the situation remains extremely precarious and volatile for people, as well as for teams attempting to provide lifesaving assistance. We are also concerned about the situation of South Sudanese refugees in Gambella region, people impacted by violence or suffering from neglected tropical diseases like snakebites and Kala Azar in Amhara region, and for people with incredibly limited access to healthcare in Somali region.

Furthermore, it is now three months since the brutal murder of our colleagues Yohannes, Maria and Tedros on 24 June, and the circumstances around their deaths remain unclear, while no one has claimed responsibility. At the time of their deaths, MSF took the painful but necessary decision to suspend activities in the central and eastern zones of Tigray (Abi Adi, Adigrat and Axum) and continues to engage in dialogue with the relevant authorities for updates regarding an on-going investigation.

While MSF was asked to suspend activities in specific locations, we continue to run medical and humanitarian services in Addis Ababa, Guji (Oromia), Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR), and southeast Tigray.

MSF has been working in Ethiopia for 37 years, providing medical assistance to millions of people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or with limited access to healthcare, in collaboration with Ethiopian authorities at local, regional and national levels. All our activities are guided by humanitarian principles: humanity, independence, neutrality, and impartiality.

Despite these current challenges in our ability to provide medical and humanitarian assistance, we remain committed to the communities we have been supporting across the country and to the ongoing dialogue with the relevant government authorities to lift the suspension and enable the resumption of activities as soon as possible.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2021  NEWSPOLITICAL PRISONERS

Brigadier General Estifanos Seyoum - Eritrean Political Prisoner

In the wake of the tragic failure of Eritrea’s 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, senior members of the Eritrean government began a campaign to bring about the democracy that the 30 year war of liberation had been fought for.

They formed the G-15: men and women who challenged President Isaias to give the Eritrean people the freedoms they had been promised. In dawn raids on 18 and 19 September 2001 the president’s notorious security forces rounded them up and jailed them. None have ever been taken before a court or convicted of any crime. They have rotted in prison ever since.

At the same time independent newspapers were closed and journalists arrested. The nightmare of repression which has hung over Eritrea ever since had begun.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of these terrible events, we recall those who have been in Eritrea’s jails ever since. Their families have been deprived of them; their friends have lost them. But they have never been forgotten. Nor has the flame of hope that they ignited – of a proud, free and democratic country.

We have profiles of these brave men and women – and will share them daily.


Estifanos Seyoum gained BA in Economics from the University of Addis Ababa and then went on to study for his Masters in Economics at Wisconsin University, USA. In 1975, he abandoned his studies to join the EPLF and he received his military and political training in Sahil. After his training, he was assigned to the Military Training Branch/Academy, as a political instructor and eventually become one of the two administrators of the Academy.

In 1977, during the first organisational congress, Estifanos was elected member of the Central Committee and became Secretary of the Department of Economy. He coordinated the complex work of this important and sensitive department. This included providing everything for the entire war effort: finance, transport, agriculture, trade and food supply as well as management of logistics for medical care, office equipment and other necessities.

After independence, Estifanos became the Secretary of Economics Department and worked to improve its capability and capacity. However, President Isaias Afeworki reshuffled ministers and other high officials frequently, giving them little chance into settle in their new posts and make impact. Estifanos was therefore moved from department to department regularly.

In 1994, during the third congress of the EPLF (PFDJ), he was elected member of the Central Committee and the Eritrean National Assembly, and became the Minister of Defence. In 2000, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General but in less than a year he was moved to the Department of Inland Revenue as its Director General. While working in this role, he discovered some irregularities in PFDJ owned private companies that were answerable only to President Isaias Afeworki. Estifanos tried to investigate these irregularities but this led to clashes with the President who tried to stop the investigation. Estifanos insisted for an audit of the financial records of the companies to make sure they paid their income taxes and duties like any other private company in accordance with the law.

In 2000, the G-15 wrote an open letter to the President demanding for the recall of the National Assembly, the implementation of the constitution and the rule of law as well as an investigation into the Ethio-Eritrean border war, which Estifanos signed.

Estifanos, along with his fellow G-15 members, was arrested by the security services on 18 September 2001 and taken to the infamous Ira-Iro prison without the due process of the law.

SEPTEMBER 8, 2021  NEWSPOLITICAL PRISONERS

General Biteweded Abraha - Eritrean political prisonerBefore Biteweded Abraha joined the EPLF, he was a clandestine member of the EPLF working in cities and towns around Eritrea. He had been captured and imprisoned by the Ethiopian security services. He stopped his clandestine work and joined the EPLF in 1973, receiving training and assigned to a combat unit in the highlands southern zone, where he served his country with distinction. In 1977, He was elected as a reserve member of the EPLF Central Committee.

In 1983, Bitweded became deputy head of the Revolution School and at the 2nd Congress of the EPLF, in 1987, he was assigned to the Economy Department before moving on to combat Division 90. Later, in the final stages of the battle for the liberation of Eritrean, he served as head of the Commando Unit 525.

He took part, as a commander, in the battle for the liberation of Assab. After the liberation of the city, he was assigned (in addition to his military tasks) to the role of assistant administrator, working to the governor of the port city of Assab. During his time in Assab, Bitweded had clashed with Isaias (the then Chairman of the EPLF). Bitweded was detained and he subsequently wrote many times to Isaias pleading for his case to be heard in court but received no reply.

Bitweded was briefly released in December 1997 by Isaias to see if he would remain silent. Contrary to the expectations, Bitweded made a public speech regarding his unjust arrest and the attitude of the dictatorial Eritrean regime. He was rearrested in March 1998 and has not been seen or of heard since.

In one of his speeches, Biweded said: “We should not be afraid of anyone person but should be aware or afraid of breaking the law of the land and the laws of God, the creator. If we want to make social justice a reality, we need to have bravery and dedication. The Eritrean people need to shout out openly and ask that these prisoners receive the due process of the law and be brought before a judge. Do not be afraid! I will fight until justice is realised.”

SEPTEMBER 7, 2021  NEWSPOLITICAL PRISONERS

In the wake of the tragic failure of Eritrea’s 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, senior members of the Eritrean government began a campaign to bring about the democracy that the 30 year war of liberation had been fought for.

They formed the G-15: men and women who challenged President Isaias to give the Eritrean people the freedoms they had been promised. In dawn raids on 18 and 19 September 2001 the president’s notorious security forces rounded them up and jailed them. None have ever been taken before a court or convicted of any crime. They have rotted in prison ever since.

At the same time independent newspapers were closed and journalists arrested. The nightmare of repression which has hung over Eritrea ever since had begun.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of these terrible events, we recall those who have been in Eritrea’s jails ever since. Their families have been deprived of them; their friends have lost them. But they have never been forgotten. Nor has the flame of hope that they ignited – of a proud, free and democratic country.

We have profiles of these brave men and women – and will share them daily.


Alazar Mesfun Eritrean Political PrisonerIn 1967, Alazar Mesfin graduated from Addis Ababa University with BA in Economics and started working to support his family in Asmara. However, as a result of the intensified armed struggle taken place in Eritrea, Alazar and his friends left Addis Ababa in 1975 to join the EPLF.

After completing his military training, Alazar was assigned to work as a radio operator but was puzzled by the prevailing EPLF leadership political rivalry. Alazar, like many of the educated youth joining the struggle, could not understand the disputes and the power struggle that was going on. But he remained hopeful that the struggle’s democratic process would help correct the weaknesses and settle the dispute amongst the leadership.

After the EPLF strategic withdrawal from the liberated cities in the late 1970s, Alazar became a representative of the Purchasing Department in Sudan and he was later sent to work in that capacity in Rome, Italy. In 1980, after just one year, he returned to Eritrea and continued as Head of Trade until independence.

After independence Alazar worked for the Ministry of Trade and Commerce and later he became the Head of Taxation/Duty Department and was instrumental in designing the department process to fit the required economic growth of the new nation. Subsequently, Alazar was transferred to the Ministry of Regional Affairs to be the head of the Economic Department for the Southern Region and then to the Northern Red Sea region. While still on that assignment he went to the US to continue his master’s degree and upon graduating, came back to Eritrea and worked for the Ministry of Regional Affairs as head of Project Management.

Alazar openly criticized the government’s inefficiencies and bad practices. As a result of expressing his opinion he was jailed and kept incommunicado in Ira-Iro prison since 2001.

Two of Alazras siblings were martyred to liberate their country and he left behind three young children.

SEPTEMBER 7, 2021  ETHIOPIANEWSTIGRAY

The reports come from Eritrean and Tigrayan sources.

The first report came from the Eritrean opposition. It suggested that at least four Eritrean divisions had advanced from the strategic Ethiopian town of Humera, towards the Amharan town of Gondar.

The Eritrean divisions are said to include the 16th, 18th, 31st and 57th. Helicopters are reported to have been used in the deployment.

Ethiopia Map: Fighting in Tigray and Amhara regions

Humera is the gateway between Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, standing at the tripoint where the borders meet. It was the scene of heavy fighting and ethnic massacres at the start of the Tigray war in November 2020.

Tigrayan sources confirm that the Tigray Defence Forces are now confronting Eritrean troops near Dabat – which has seen much fighting in recent weeks.

Ethiopia Map: Fighting near Dabat

These reports need to be confirmed, but they suggest a major development in the Tigray war.

Context

When the war began on 4 November 2020 the Eritrean army advanced into Ethiopia taking large areas of northern Tigray. The Eritreans also took western Tigray, cutting access to Sudan. This left Tigray reliant on supply lines that run through Amhara or the Afar region. It gave Prime Minister Abiy a stranglehold over Tigray, since he controlled their access to food and other supplies.

When the Tigrayans fought back in June 2021, re-capturing their capital, Mekelle, the Eritreans army retreated northwards. Ethiopian forces and their Amhara allies retreated southwards.

As they did so the Ethiopians blew up bridges on the Tekeze river – bridges the Tigrayans have worked hard to repair. Some of these routes are now open and can be used by the UN to bring badly needed aid into Tigray.

But the level of aid reaching Tigray is nowhere near what the region requires to keep feeding its people.

The Ethiopian military and bureaucratic problems have meant that only a fraction of the aid that Tigray needs has reached the region.

As the United Nations OCHA warned on 3 September: “Food stocks ran out on 20 August. A minimum of 100 trucks of food, non-food items and fuel are required daily to sustain an adequate response. Since 12 July, only 335 trucks have entered Tigray – about 9% of the required 3,900 trucks.”

Facing the starvation of their people, the Tigrayans advanced southwards and eastwards, saying their aim is to try to force the Ethiopians into negotiations.

This is from a statement released by Tigrayans on 6 September:

“The TDF’s advance into the Afar and Amhara regions is not intended to annex territories or bring about regime change but to force the regime to sit down for negotiation by denying it the opportunity to regroup and invade Tigray again. It is this point that Meaza alluded to in the short time given to her when she said “the TDF is in the Amhara and Afar regions to find a political solution”. Not only does it make perfect sense, but it also couldn’t have been stated in a better way.”

If the Eritrean deployment from Humera to the front near Gondar is confirmed it would suggest that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is not confident that he can hold the TDF forces on his own and has had to turn to President Isaias Afwerki to bring in Eritrean reinforcements to protect the area around Gondar.

But if Tigray cannot force Prime Minister Abiy to open serious negotiations, or open a route to Sudan the fate of the people of Tigray could be grim indeed. Reports of starvation are already beginning to emerge: they are likely to increase in the coming weeks.

“Alarming new data has today confirmed the magnitude of the hunger emergency gripping Tigray,” David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Program, the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations, said in a statement. 

Mark Lowcock, the former senior humanitarian emergency official at the United Nations, told a webcast meeting of aid officials and diplomats that the number of people affected by the famine was “higher than anywhere in the world” and was the worst in any country since a 2011 famine gripped neighboring Somalia.

SEPTEMBER 6, 2021  NEWSPOLITICAL PRISONERS

In the wake of the tragic failure of Eritrea’s 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, senior members of the Eritrean government began a campaign to bring about the democracy that the 30 year war of liberation had been fought for.

They formed the G-15: men and women who challenged President Isaias to give the Eritrean people the freedoms they had been promised. In dawn raids on 18 and 19 September 2001 the president’s notorious security forces rounded them up and jailed them. None have ever been taken before a court or convicted of any crime. They have rotted in prison ever since.

At the same time independent newspapers were closed and journalists arrested. The nightmare of repression which has hung over Eritrea ever since had begun.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of these terrible events, we recall those who have been in Eritrea’s jails ever since. Their families have been deprived of them; their friends have lost them. But they have never been forgotten. Nor has the flame of hope that they ignited – of a proud, free and democratic country.

We have profiles of these brave men and women – and will share them daily.


Fesseha Yoahnnes joined a clandestine cell of the EPLF in his youth carrying out special tasks in cities and towns around Eritrea. The cell was uncovered by Ethiopian security services and Fesseha was forced to flee and joined the EPLF formally in 1978. After receiving military and political training, Fesseha was assigned to various units, including Brigade number 31 and took part in the infamous 6th offensive battle against the Ethiopian troops  that lasted 4 months.

In mid 1980’s, the EPLF decided to form Cultural Groups to perform songs, drama and poetry to boost the fighter’s morale and popular support. Fesseha was attached to the 16th Brigade Cultural Group and later to the 61st Division where his artistic work was invaluable. He wrote poems and lyrics for stage dramas, serving as director.

In 1994, Fesseha formed a musical and drama group called, ”Shewit ” in collaboration with the popular and talented Eritrean artist, Isaias Tsegay. The main focus of the group was to train gifted youth in culture, music, drama and dance. They produced some of the best young artists, singers and actors such as Simret Aynom and Jemal Romodan.

In 1997, Fesseha joined Dawit Isaak and Aron Berhane and others to work for the then newly established Setit Newspaper. This was the first independent Tigrinya newspaper in Eritrea. It was initially published weekly and later twice-a week. It became a very popular newspaper and continued to publish until it was banned by the Eritrean government in September 2001.

When the group of G-15 ( Ministers, army generals, ambassadors, and other veteran ex fighters) started their campaign of reforms and opposition against the Eritrean President, they sent an open letter to the President. The G-15, were not allowed to use the government owned media and so they used the independent newspapers, like Setit to explain their views to the public.

Since September 2001, Fesseha has been detained in various prisons; first, in Asmara (Police Station Number 6) and later, after he and his fellow inmates conducted a hunger stike demanding their cases to be heard in court, he was transferred to Embatkla and finally to the infamous Ira-Iro prison.

So far, no official information has been provided by the Eritrean government about Feeseha’s whereabout, not even if he is alive or dead. There are rumours (some from ex-prison guards) that some of the prisoners have died due to maltreatement.