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 the early 1970s Mariam went to Sweden to do her first degree and from there she moved to the US. This was a period when the Eritrean armed struggle was going through a difficult period with Ethiopia mounting repeated offenses with full superpower supporter, huge number of troops and military hardware. This led to the EPLF pulling back from the liberated areas.
In 1977, Miriam left her comfortable life in the US to fight for her country and liberate its people from Ethiopian oppression and brutality. Mariam underwent military training and was assigned to the Department of Information. Miriam was open and frank – a characteristic which was incompatible with the culture of the EPLF’s leadership which instilled a culture of total obedience and fear. The Eritrean field was not an ideal place for people who questioned the leadership. “Why and How” questions were least entertained and brought the demise of the educated elites who would not conform.
Miriam found life in the field unbearable, not due to the sleepless night or hardship, or even due to thirst or hunger, but because of the iron-fisted discipline of the leadership. She was not alone to feel this way. Many who joined EPLF from North America who raised questions were labelled “opportunists”, severely criticized and marginalized. For these reasons, Miriam was imprisoned in Halewa Sewra from 1979-1981 and put under the custody of the intelligence unit that spied on and cracked down anyone who criticized the leadership. Miriam suffered from kidney failure and was eventually freed after two years.
After the liberation of Eritrea, Mariam worked as Cinema Administrator. She married a former member of The Union of Eritrean Students in North America and had a daughter, Debora. Miriam worked hard to revamp cinema halls in the country. She arranged tours and talks for ambassadors of foreign countries was well as organising a seven-day film festival to raise fund. It was a success story that brought back the old and beautiful cinema halls operational once again.
Miriam was critical of the way the Eritrea-Ethiopian war was handled and supported the G-15 demands. After the G-15 crackdown, Miriam was arrested and taken to Ira-Iro prison. Her current whereabouts are unknown.