Twenty years on: imprisoned without trial but never forgotten – Petros Solomon

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.

Petros Solomon Political PrisonerFrom an early age Petros understood the oppression the people of Eritrea under Ethiopian occupation and played a leading role in mobilising the people, and Eritrean youth in particular, to join the independence struggle.

In 1972, Petros joined the EPLF and received military and political training before becoming a private. He worked his way up to be a Unit leader. In 1975, when battalions were established, Petros was appointed Commissioner of the 2nd battalion along with Hamed Idris Bareh. Petros led numerous battles during the period before the strategic retreat in the late 70s.

In 1977, Petros was elected to the EPLF Central Committee and the Executive Committee to serve as Head of Military Intelligence. When the so called “Silent offensive” was launched in 1983 by the Ethiopians, Petros coordinated the Halhal and Nakfa fronts. He led with great competence and bravery the defence of the front that went on for about four months.  He also had prominent leadership role and participated in the battles to liberate the towns of Teseney (1984) and Barentu (1985).

Petros created and maintained an elaborate communication network that reported daily on what was happening in Ethiopia and Eritrea. This intelligence enabled the EPLF to defeat multiple offensives by the Ethiopian army.

Following independence in 1991, Petros served as the first Minister of Defence and after the third EPLF Congress in 1994 he became the Minister of Foreign Affairs, where he served for three years. Petros tried his best to halt the conflict with Yemen over the Hanish islands and to prevent Eritrean involvement in the Great Lakes region.

When Isais started to remove experienced veterans from their posts and take dangerous decisions unilaterally, it became clear to Petros and his compatriots that the only way forward for the country was the implementation of the 1997 Constitution and the establishment of a democratic government where the rule of law prevails.  The G-15 made this call through an open letter to President Isaias Afeworki, but he rejected their demand. On 18 September of 2001 he ordered their arrest and they were abruptly taken from their homes. They have not been seen or heard of ever since.

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