Twenty years on – imprisoned without trial, but never forgotten: Ogbe Abraha

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.

Ogbe Abraha became a member of the ELF underground cell, but some of his comrades were being followed by the Ethiopian security services and were imprisoned. He fled from his hometown and moved to Addis Ababa where he worked for a year before enrolling at the University of Addis Ababa in 1971. A year later, he interrupted his study to join the Eritrean struggle for independence.

Ogbe received military and political training from the ELF in the lowlands of Eritrea. Shortly after completing his training, he and his comrades were ambushed by the enemy. Five of his comrades were killed. A number were wounded and he treated and looked after them until help arrived.

Ogbe was next assigned to the heavy artillery division. He was given a special role of training undercover agents to engage in urban guerrilla activities in the highlands of Eritrea.  In 1974 he became the manager of the army stores and stayed in that role until he was elected to the ELF politburo and became the Head of North Eastern Sahel Front. He was briefly moved to the Trade division (economic commission) and then became a member of the general staff – coordinating military operations and remained in that role until independence.

After independence, Oqbe worked as a Minister for Trade and Industry and Head of the Red Sea Trade Corporation. In the 1994 EPLF congress he was elected member of the Central Committee and served in a number of ministries. Around 1996, President Isais Afeworki started a campaign accusing Oqbe of corruption in his role at the Red Sea Trade Corporation. However, Oqbe openly challenged the President writing a letter asking him to prove the allegations in court. In 1998 at the start of the Ethio-Eritrea war, Ogba was transferred to the army and in 1999 he was promoted to a full general and led the general staff of the Eritrean Defence Forces.

Following the end of the border war, Oqbe documented all the violations he had faced and called on President Isaias Afeworki to respect his rights. He also called for a proper assessment of Eritrea’s defence, foreign policy, finance, and security so that future risks can be minimised.

On 18 September 2001, Oqbe was arrested and taken to Embatkala prison. Oqbe developed serious health issues – Asthma and depression. He tried to kill himself and was apparently hospitalised. The government has never confirmed Ogba’s whereabouts, not even whether he is dead or alive.

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