By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
September 18, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – Some 12 exiled Eritrean campaigner groups on Friday called for the release of 11 former Eritrean officials who remain held incommunicado since a government crackdown in 2001.
- Eritrea, which borders Sudan and Ethiopia, has been dubbed the North Korea of Africa (HRW)
“We – as Eritrean organizations – demand the immediate release of the eleven signatories of the Open Letter now in detention and the implementation of the democratic reforms for which they fought” said a letter signed by the organizations and sent to Sudan Tribune.
The 11 Eritrean prominent politicians, including three former cabinet ministers who were seen as loyalists of the president were arrested on 18 and 19 September 2001 along with other suspected dissidents and journalists.
The detainees who were then serving as senior military or political leaders during the decade’s long war of independence were detained shortly after they called up on President Isaias Afewerki for democratic reform.
In May 2001 they wrote an open letter to the president and to the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party, calling to implement Eritrea’s constitution , for the democratisation of government institutions, freeing of political prisoners, strengthening civil society, building new homes and aid for disabled national liberation fighters.
However the regime in Asmara responded by arresting them by accusing them of committing crimes against the security of the nation and conspiring with Ethiopia to topple President Isaias.
They have since been held incommunicado without charge for 14 years now.
In an email exchange, Feruz Werede a member of the Stop Slavery in Eritrea Campaign toldSudan Tribune that the petition letter that calls for the release of the 11 has now been circulated to the European Union.
Feruz who also is the official spokesperson of the 12 campaigner group made a call to the international community to listen to the plight of those people and their families.
“We do not know the condition of the officials arrested or their whereabouts. They have been incommunicado since their arrest 14 years ago,” she said.
International right groups say the detainees had been denied access to their families’ access to lawyers as well to medical treatment they need.
Political prisoners in the Red Sea nation are held in the country’s notorious prison facilities where inmates are subjected to extreme temperature conditions.
Former prisoners who arrived in Ethiopia recently told Sudan Tribune that most political inmates are incarcerated in underground cells and in shipping containers where temperatures could soar up to 50 Celsius.
Currently there are an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 political prisoners in Eritrea.