Twenty years on: imprisoned without trial, but never forgotten: Tesfay Gebreab

Tesfay Gebreab (Gomera)

Tesfay Gebreab political prisoner

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 1977, Tesfay Gebreab joined the EPLF underground cell in Desse, Ethiopia and travelled to EPLF base in Sahel for its first congress representing clandestine cells in both Eritrea and Ethiopia.  When he returned to Desse the Ethiopian security surveillance had intensified and some of his comrades were arrested but Tesfay escaped via Djibouti. He joined the EPLF in 1978 arriving is Sahil where he received military training and then assigned to the Pharmacy Branch, Medical Services.

After independence in 1991, Tesfay was assigned to the department of Internal Affairs and he received security training in Sudan. On his return he called for government policy to change to ensure that Eritrean citizens’ rights and dignity were respected, including the right to freedom of  movement, with citizens allowed to leave and enter Eritrea without excessive controls. But his suggestion was rejected as being “not timely or appropriate for the situation.”  In 1994 Tesfay was re-assigned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as head of administration. He oversaw finances and the human resources of the ministry. He reorganised the department and made various improvements.

In 1999 Tesfay secured a scholarship to study for his Master’s degree in Public Administration in the US and returned home after graduation. This was during the Ethio-Eritrea border war. Tesfay opposed the border war as a tragic waste of more than 100,000 lives and the displacement of over half a million people. The international community described the border war as a “terrible and costly adventure”.

When the war ended, Tesfay supported the G-15 who demanded the war should be properly and seriously evaluated. They also demanded for a transition from the dictatorial rule of President Isaias Afeworki to a democracy with a functioning constitution. Unfortunately, they paid high price for their legitimate demands and have been incarcerated in the notorious Ira-Iro prison since September 2001.  Tesfay has not been seen or heard since.

Tesfay was an excellent writer and contributed articles under his pen name of “Gomera” (volcano) to newspapers and magazines.

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