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.