Berhane Abrehe arrested in Eritrea

Former Eritrean minister of finance Berhane Abrehe, prominent critic of Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki, has reportedly been arrested in Asmara on Sunday morning, 16 September. Observers had expected the Eritrean regime to take action against Berhane after the publication of his two-volume book “Eritrea Hagerey” (Eritrea, my Country) in which he called for prompt elections and the replacement of Isaias Afwerki. Berhane refused to leave Eritrea, even though his supporters were fearful that he might face repercussions. Berhane’s wife has been imprisoned in Eritrea for over a year.

The arrest comes at the eve of the 17th anniversary of the sweeping arrests on and around 18 September 2001. President Isaias ordered the closure of all free press, many of which had argued for the implementation of the Eritrean constitution of 1997 that has never come into effect. Also in September 2001, 15 prominent Eritreans known as the G-15, among which three government officials that had called for democratic changes, as well as thousands of alleged sympathizers, were arrested without legal charges, hearing trial, and judgment.

After 17 years, their fate is mostly unknown. According to a prison guard cited by Human Rights Watch, half of the G-15 have since passed away. Dawit Isaak, a famous Swedish-Eritrean journalist who was arrested in September 2001, is being held in an unknown location, and has been held in solitary confinement at least half of the time of his imprisonment, according to reports. Torture is also rife in Eritrean prisons and it is estimated by Human Rights Watch that between 5 000 and 10 000 political prisoners are held that never were charged or sentenced. In addition, Reporters without Borders state that foreign journalists are severely restricted in Eritrea so that information about Eritrea is difficult to obtain.