Twenty years on – imprisoned without trial, but never forgotten: Amanuel Asrat

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.

Amanuel Asrat Political PrisonerAmanuel Asrat graduated from a teaching College in BahIr Dar and in 1990 joined the EPLF. He was assigned to the Revolution School: ”Bet Timhrti Sewra”.

Following independence in 1991, Amanuel was demobilised and returned to a civilian life. In 1992, he joined the University of Asmara, graduating with a BA  in Agriculture and was assigned to the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment. When the Ethio-Eritrean border war started, Amanuel was ordered to join the Military Engineers and took part in the opening stages of the war, before returning to his Ministry in Asmara.

In 1999, Amanuel along with former university friends established the Zemen (Time) Tigrinya language newspaper in Asmara. Amanuel also founded a debating platform for art and literature in Asmara, specifically aimed at young people. It became a model for other literary and art discussion groups that later formed around the country.

Aside from his work and contributions as a journalist, newspaper publisher and editor, Amanuel was also a highly regarded poet, writer and film and music critic. He produced many excellent poems in Tigrinya.

Amanuel was critical in his writing  of the political, social and economic abuses committed by government officials and people in the military. He regularly received threats from officials but carried on speaking and writing the truth in his newspaper.

During the border war with Ethiopia, he wrote an honest piece of poetry about the destructive nature of war titled ”The Destruction and Harm of War”. This was a very high-quality poem and won him an award from the Committee of Preparation for the National Festivities in 1999.  Later, he won another award for his poem, ”The Consequences of War,” which has since been translated into 16 languages.

On 23 September 2021, Amanuel was arrested by the PFDJ and is believed to be jailed in the infamous Ira-Iro prison, but he has not been seen or heard of since.

In 2016, Amanaule was awarded the Freedom of expression award –  the ”Oxfam Novib/PEN Award”. In 2021 he received the ”Brave Writer” award for his work as a journalist and critic.

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