Twenty years on – imprisoned without trial, but never forgotten: Salih Idris Kekia

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.

Salih Idris Kekia, attended Quranic school and was among the first students of the Mahad, a religious school that was part of the Jame’ mosque in Keren, where he learned the Quran besides other spiritual elements and the Arabic language.

He then completed his elementary and secondary education in Keren before moving to Bahir Dar in Ethiopia where he studied Agro Mechanical Engineering graduating with a diploma in 1971.

In 1975, Salih joined the EPLF and after completing his military training, he became a political teacher and then he was sent to South Yemen for further political training. On his return he was promoted to Head the Political Training Division. In 1986, he was transferred to the secretariat of the EPLF and served as

assistant to the then secretary-general of the EPLF, Isaias Afwerki. In 1987 Salih was elected to the Central Committee of the EPLF.

Salih is a man of principle and always stood on the side of justice-seekers, never compromising his dignity and integrity. He spoke out against wrongdoing and asked for any to be corrected. As a result, on the eve of independence, his relationship with Isaias gradually faded. Soon after independence, Salih said “from now on Isaias will be a liability for the Eritrean people. We need to move fast to establish a constitutional democratic government that embraces all Eritrean political entities”.

In 1991, Salih became the Director of the Secretary General’s Office in Asmara and in 1993, he became the Director of the President’s office before he became Eritrea’s first Ambassador to Sudan in October of that year. In 1995, he was recalled to Asmara and assumed the role of Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs under Minister Petros Solomon where he stayed for 2 years. He was then moved to become the Minister for Communication and Transport in 1997. He served in that position until October 2000.

Salih was one of the G-15 signatories demanding a national assembly meeting to assess the internal situation after the border war with Ethiopia. He along with his other comrades were arrested on 18 September 2001 by the Eritrean security services. They have languished at the Ira-Iro prison ever since without the due process of the law.


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