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.
Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo
In 1966 Mahmoud abandoned his schooling to join the ELF to fight for his country’s independence. He was a prolific reader and his comrade, Ahmed Alqeisi, described Mahmoud as “a fighter who closely monitored current affairs and helped to established a people’s force”. Mahmoud spoke fluent Arabic, Tigrinya and Saho in addition to English. Mahmoud is one of the founding fathers of the EPLF that split from the ELF.
In 1977, Mahmoud was elected a member of the first organized political office in Sahel and led the information division. In 1987 he was re-elected member and led the Department of Public Administration. In 1979, he founded the Voice of the Masses radio that broadcasted in Tigrinya, Tigre, Afar, Arabic and Amharic. Mahmoud was a popular figure who coordinated programmes on air as well as a printing department that published magazines, textbooks, stimulators, and revolutionary literature.
As one of the fighters who opposed the leadership of ELF and formed the EPLF, Mahmoud reiterated his belief that the democratic weaknesses criticised in the ELF should not be repeated in EPLF, and he spent a lot of time trying to maintain the unity of the EPLF.
After independence, Mahmoud worked as a Minister of Foreign Affairs and in 1994 he was elected member of the Central Committee and the Eritrean National Council. Mahmoud was one of the G-15 leaders who demanded accountability and proper governance as well as the implementation of the constitution. On 18 September 2001, Mohamoud along with his G-15, including his wife Aster Fisihazion were arrested by the Eritrean security services and taken to the infamous Ila-Iro prison. They have not been seen or heard since.
Aster and Mohmoud’s son, Ibrahim, spends each September reflecting on his parents’ imprisonment 20 years ago and demanding for a peaceful democratic transition in Eritrea. Ibrahim knows the regime that imprisoned his parents is cruel but still lives in hope and writes on social media “the day I see the face of my parents again, will be the happiest day of my life.”