Important – Eritrea: online memorial for missing prisoners

Source: Prisoners List

An online memorial to missing Eritrean prisoners.
An online memorial to missing Eritrean prisoners. Setit site

On September 18, 2001, 19 years ago, the main reformists in Eritrea were arrested after denouncing the “dictatorial drift” of President Issayas Afewerki. This roundup marked the start of a wave of arrests in the following days, especially among journalists in the capital. None of these prisoners have been released to date and it is not known where they were held or their state of health. But to ensure that political prisoners are not forgotten, Eritreans in the diaspora have compiled an exceptional document released last month, listing the missing in detail.


We inevitably think of a memorial. Leafing through the fifty or so pages published last month on the Setit site , named after Asmara’s major newspaper which forcibly ceased to appear in September 2001, is like walking along the wall of a virtual monument: page after page follows one another. identity photographs, old and banal images, faces never seen for twenty years; short biographies, a job, a background; sometimes just a name and an approximate date of arrest, for lack of being able to find the families or relatives of the countless political detainees in this closed country in the Horn of Africa.

Since his New York exile, the former Eritrean journalist Ahmed Raji coordinated this publication based on data from NGOs, human rights associations, activists in exile, and families. He who was the friend of many of these disappeared from Eritrean prisons assumes a militant act in the face of ”  exceptional cruelty  “.

“  The government’s strategy is to simply throw these people in jail and forget about them ,” he explains. The prisoners are not even questioned! Some have been in prison for years, even decades, without knowing why they are being held. The guards who fled the country say that they are simply told: your role is to prevent them from escaping, period!  ”

Enforced disappearance is a common practice

Thanks to these rare testimonies from fugitives, it is also assumed that some of these prisoners died in detention, for lack of treatment or as a result of unfathomable psychological distress. Sometimes, very rarely, a body is returned to the families, but most of the time their death remains only a hypothesis. Similarly, we know the places where they would be held, secret or not, but without great certainty. The document published on theSetit also offers a satellite photo of one of these prisons, the isolated penitentiary of Eiraeiro, lost in the mountains, opening a sad chronological timeline going from independence in 1991 to the present day.

Because enforced disappearance is a common practice in Eritrea. “  It turns out that this is an old tactic of the ruling party, the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice, the FPDJ, which during the national liberation struggle was called the Popular Front for the Liberation of ‘Eritrea, the EFLP, explains Ahmed Raji. We have data on disappearances in the bush, long before independence. But that would be another story, more work to be done.  ”

“Remembering is an act of defiance”

On the cover page of the document is a motto: “  Remembering is an act of defiance . This is the same message that Ahmed Raji hammers to justify this painstaking work. “  By making these people disappear, the intention of the government is to ensure that they are forgotten ,” he explains. The intention is to erase them from the collective memory of the people. And our goal is quite simply to prevent the regime from achieving that goal.  ”

The profiles of the missing are diverse. They are not only famous politicians or opponents, rebellious soldiers, but also ”  young and old, women and men, intellectuals, peasants or teachers,” says Ahmed Raji. A bit like a parallel Eritrea.  “. A host of faces and shattered destinies, he concludes, in the form of “a  mirror image of Eritrea.” But an Eritrea that would be underground.  ”


  1. Absolutely sad and tragic in the extreme.

    This tragedy not only shows how brutal Isais is but more crucially how useless we Eritreans are.

    There is 5 million of us. To be tormented and brutalised in the hands of one dictator with the support of half a dozen cliques demonstrators our failure as people.

    Unless we do something tangible and quick, not only will we have more of these memorials for the missing but memorials for a lost country too.

    We have no one to blame for what is happening to our people and what might eventually happen to our country but ourselves.

    Time to wake up before it is too late.

  2. My heart breaks for these human beings and for this country. So much hope lost to the evil darkness that is Isaias Afewarki.

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