Twenty years on: imprisoned without trial but never forgotten – Feron Woldu

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.

In 1976, Feron joined the EPLF. After receiving political and military training, he was assigned to the frontline where he was wounded and subsequently spent months in hospital. On recovery from his injuries, he was posted to work at the Research and Information Centre of Eritrea (RICE).

Feron was frank and spoke his mind. In 1978, he was imprisoned by the EPLF for “asking too many questions” about various malpractice committed in prisons and suppression of freedom of expression. He used to ask: “Until when are we supposed to keep our mouths shut?”. Feron “was always an open book,” says a friend who used to work with him at RICE. “If he finds something funny, he laughs from the heart,” says another friend. “He is always happy or tries to change anxiety into happiness. He speaks his mind openly”.

Feron found it hard to adopt to the social and political situation that prevailed after the independence of Eritrea and said: “The sacrifices of our heroes will be meaningless if the EPLF cannot change to a much more liberal system suitable for this nation”. He added: “if we cannot fix matters quickly, there is a high probability for the current joy and laughter to turn to tears and grief.” When disabled Eritrean veterans were shot and killed in Mai Habar for demanding better living conditions, Feron said “Unless the Eritrean people fight back and do something to change the system, they will soon be in a state of misery they cannot escape.”

When the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia broke out in 1998, Feron hoped that President  Isaias Afeworki would be able to prevent escalation and avoid further damage, saying, “Now is the time for Isaias, as an individual and a country leader to sit down with his closest colleagues to solve this serious situation and be tested for their fitness and potential.  Isaias, who declared, ‘Let the Sun never shine!’ would allow the war to escalate and cause the death of thousands of young Eritreans and the destruction of the country.”

In 2001 and a few months after the end of the border war, Feron was imprisoned by members of the security services ‘for not keeping his mouth shut’ and criticising the government. He has not been seen or heard since.


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