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.
Germano Nati became a clandestine member of the ELF and was arrested by the Ethiopian security services and detained in Sembel Prison, Asmara. He was tortured; his finger and toe nails were pulled out with pincers, given electrical shocks to get him reveal ELF secrets. In 1975, he and some fellow inmates were freed from prison by a daring and heroic ELF operation.
Following his release from prison, Germano joined the EPLF and received military training and then assigned to the Department of Political Awareness – Research Branch, where he wrote articles in the Kunama language. Later he was assigned to the Department of Public Administration in Barka (now Gash Barka) and he worked hard to strengthen the participation of the Kunama people in the armed struggle, as well as helping to resolve conflicts between the Kunama and Nara ethnic groups on the one hand and the Kunama and Tigrinya on the other.
After independence in 1994, Germano was elected member of the PFDJ Central Committee and then a member of the Eritrean National Assembly. He was posted as Administrator of the Gash-Setit, Barka region. He, like most young people of his generation, had a vision that after Eritrea independence the country would be democratic, governed by a constitution and rule of law. They wanted to see the people freely and regularly elect their representatives, from local levels to the highest organs in government. He wanted them to enjoy press freedom, have the right to assembly, peaceful protest, organise and form political parties.
In September 2001, while working in Denkel province, he was arrested along with the G-15 for demanding change to create a democratic and constitutional administered Eritrea. They were taken to the infamous Ira-Iro prison and have not seen or heard since.
In an article published on Awate.com under the title ‘Release our fathers’, one of Germano’s children wrote ‘While many people chose to ignore the corruption and injustice they saw, you did not ignore it and spoke and opposed it openly. Wherever I go, I remember you, and you are always with me. I named my son after you. I feel your spirit following me wherever I go. I know that you are human and will pass away as everyone will someday. You, and the other G-15 who signed the letter demanding President Isaias to convene a special meeting of the Eritrean National Assembly have been imprisoned and are wasting away in the solitary cells in the infamous Ira-Iro jail. I feel proud of you for I know that you will be proudly remembered forever. But I feel sorry for the loser, President Isaias Afwerki who ignored your just calls and demands. I know history will not remember nor forgive Isaias.’