Eritrea must immediately and unconditionally release prisoners of conscience

June 22, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Amnesty International

The Eritrean foreign minister’s confirmation that all politicians and journalists arbitrarily arrested in 2001 are alive is welcome news but they must now be immediately and unconditionally released, human rights NGO Amnesty International stated.

In a Radio France Internationale (RFI) interview broadcast on 20 June, Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed referred to the detainees as political prisoners and said “all of them are alive” and will be tried “when the government decides”.

The detainees, who were arrested in September 2001, included 11 politicians and 10 journalists. Until now the Eritrean authorities have refused to disclose their whereabouts or their health status to their families.

“Amnesty International considers all 21 prisoners of conscience and has campaigned for their release since they were arrested 15 years ago. It is a travesty of justice that they have been held incommunicado for so long without charge or trial,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“They must be immediately and unconditionally released as they should never have been locked up in jail in the first place.”

The 11 politicians – all former members of the Central Council of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), including former Foreign Minister Petros Solomon, were arrested after they published an open letter to the government and President Isaias Afewerki in September 2001 calling for reform and “democratic dialogue”. The journalists were arrested over the following week.

“All prisoners of conscience in Eritrea must be immediately and unconditionally released. Anyone suspected of a criminal offence must be charged with a recognizable crime and tried promptly before a civilian court in accordance with international fair trial standards, or released,” said Sarah Jackson.



On the same day that the politicians were arrested, the government announced the deregistration of the entire privately-owned press, and over the following week 10 leading journalists were also arrested.

Nine of the politicians and four journalists Dawit Isaak, Dawit Habtemichael, Mattewos Habteab and Wedi Itay, have previously been reported to have died in detention.

The Eritrean regime has always refused to confirm these reports.









Amnesty International is a non-governmental organisation focused on human rights with over 7 million members and supporters around the world. The stated objective of the organisation is “to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated.”


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