Facts in a Nutshell
- The G-15:
- The 15 members of the group are former fighters who were instrumental figures in the liberation of Eritrea.
- The group were all members of the Central Council of the Ruling Party, People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ);
- Seven were former Cabinet Ministers;
- Eleven of the G-15 have been held incommunicado without charge for 13 years;
- Four escaped arrest;
- Their ‘Crime’: They were arrested in Sep 2001 after publishing an open letter to the government and President Isaias Afewerki calling for democratic dialogue.
- Government’s Claim: the Eritrean government said the 15 individuals had committed crimes “against the security of the nation”.
- Whereabouts: In the thirteen years that they have been detained, the Eritrean authorities have refused to confirm their whereabouts or their health status to their families.
- Violations: The thirteen-year incommunicado detention of these prominent individuals violates numerous rights protected under Eritrean and international law.
- The G-15’s Open Letter: The open letter to the president was the culmination of the repeated requests the signatories of the letter made to hold regular meeting of the Central Council and the National Council which were well overdue. They believed the best way to resolve the problem was through meetings and democratic dialogue. Accordingly, they requested that the president, as chairman of both the Central and the National Council, convene meetings. The president dismissed the requests of the group who were members of both Central and the National Council. He simply failed to respond positively to their requests. After a flurry of exchanges of letters they decided to write the open letter to all members of the government party (PFDJ).
This letter was a call for correction, a call for peaceful and democratic dialogue, a call for strengthening and consolidation, a call for unity, a call for the rule of law and for justice, through peaceful and legal ways. Nonetheless, the president’s final reply to his top aides was negative. He wrote: ‘I choose to be forbearing and I will patiently avoid any invitation to arguments. But if you continue to provoke me and choose to escalate the problems by exaggerating non-existent issues, it is your choice.’ A party meeting was never convened and ultimately he took a draconian measure against his topmost comrades by locking them up unceremoniously.
According to the government, the G-15’s open letter was part of a plot to establish political cells in and out of government throughout Eritrea and abroad, coordinating their activities with the help of regional countries to destabilise the government.
Who are the Members of the so-called G-15 Group?
Petros Solomon (jailed): Petros, born in 1951, joined the liberation front in 1972. He was a close colleague of Isaias Afewerki, former rebel leader, now president of the State of Eritrea. From 1977 until the end of the Eritrean War of Independence (1991) he served as the head of military intelligence for the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). He also served as a member of the executive committee of EPLF from 1977 to 1994. Since independence he served in various cabinet positions, including Minister of Foreign Affairs. His last post was Minister of Marine Resources.
Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo (jailed): Sheriffo, born in 1948, joined the Eritrean struggle in 1966. In 1970, he and his colleagues founded the EPLF. In 1977 he was elected to become a member of the Political Bureau of the Front. After the Front’s second congress of 1987 he served in the capacity of Head of the Department of Public Administration. He also served as Minister of Foreign Affairs before his last position as Minister of Local Government. During this time he was also appointed Chairman of the Committee to prepare the draft laws concerning the formation of Political Parties, which the president eventually blocked.
Haile Woldtensae (jailed): Haile in born in 1948. In 1964, he was an active participant of the student movement before he joined the Eritrean struggle for independence in 1966. In1973 he was captured by Ethiopian soldiers and jailed in Asmara, only to be rescued by his fellow fighters in 1975. Two years later he became a member of EPLF’s Politburo. After Independence he became the Minister of Finance and Development and served in that capacity until the beginning of Eritrean-Ethiopian War of 1998. He was then shuffled in the Cabinet to the Minister of Foreign Affairs position.
Mesfin Hagos (in exile): Mesfin joined the liberation struggle in 1967. He, alongside the current president, was a founding member of the EPLF in 1970. After Independence he was appointed to become Eritrea’s first Minister of Defence. In 1995 he stepped down from his post and became the Regional Administrator of the Southern Region. During the arrest of the G-15 group Mesfin was abroad for medical reasons. In exile he became leader of an opposition party called Eritrean Democratic Party. His EDP party joined another party to become EPDP.
Hamid Himid (jailed): Hamid Himid was a well-liked and trendy politician who held various government posts since Eritrean independence. He was member of the EPLF Central committee during its Second Congress and Central Council (Executive Office) of PFDJ from 1994 to 2001, member of the National Assembly, head of the Middle East Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, administrator of the Senhit Province, ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and head of the Middle East and North Africa Department and of the Political Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ogbe Abraha (jailed): Ogbe, born in 1949, joined the EPLF in 1972 when he was a college student in Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. In 1977, he became member of the Politburo. of the Front and assumed the post of head of logistics. He also assumed the position of commander of a military front in 1978-1984. Since independence, he held the following positions: member of the Central Council of PFDJ, member of the National Council, Secretary and then Minister of Trade and Industry, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Chief of Logistics, Administration and Health in the Ministry of Defence, Chief of Staff of the Eritrean Defence Forces. Ogbe suffers from a serious case of Asthma.
Saleh Idris Kekya (jailed): Saleh joined EPLF in 1976. At first he served as military trainer and political commissioner. And since independence, held the following positions: member of the Central Council of PFDJ, member of the National Assembly, Director of the Office of the President, Ambassador to Sudan, Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Transport and Communication.
Estifanos Seyoum (jailed): Estifanos is an economics graduate from Addis Ababa University and with a Master’s degree from Wisconsin University. He joined the EPLF in 1975. Before independence he served the front by heading the finance department. Since independence, he held the following positions: member of the Central Council of PFDJ, member of the National Assembly, Secretary of Finance, Head of Finance in the Eritrean Defence Forces as Brigadier General and Director-General of Inland Revenue.
Berhane Ghebrezgabiher (jailed): Former Addis University student, Berhane joined the EPLF in 1972. After a few years he became one of the top EPLF Political Cadres. In 1977 he was elected to join EPLF’s Politburo and again in 1987 he was elected to become a member of the Central Council of the Front. Since independence for Eritrea, held the following positions: member of the Central Council of PFDJ, member of the National Assembly, Secretary of Industry, Administrator of Hamasien Province, Commander of the Ground Forces in the Eritrean Defence Forces as Major General, and Commander of the reserve army.
Aster Fissehatsion (jailed): Aster, born in 1956, joined Eritrean People's Liberation Front in 1974. During the revolutionary years she served the front as a political commissioner and a mentor to thousands of newly recruits. Since independence, she held the following positions: member of the Central Council of PFDJ, member of the National Assembly, Head of Social Affairs in the Ministry of Social Welfare and Head of Personnel in the Anseba Zone.
Mohammed Berhan Blata (in exile): Unlike the rest of the group Mohammed was a member of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). In the 60s he was one of the top leaders of the five military zones of the ELF. After independence he returned to Eritrea from abroad and was given a post in the government. He was consecutively the mayor of Mendeferra, Adi Kayih and Dekemhare, from 1992 to 2001. After signing the Open Letter with the rest of the G-15 Mohammed later recanted. He now lives in exile.
Germano Nati (jailed): Germano joined EPLF in 1977 and, since independence, held the following positions: member of the Central Council and Executive Committee of PFDJ, member of the National Assembly, Administrator of the Gash-Setit Province and Head of Social Affairs in the Southern Red Sea Region.
Beraki Gebreselassie (jailed): Beraki, who joined the Front in 1971, is renowned for his contributions in the field of Education in the battlefields of Eritrea. After Independence, Beraki served as Minister of Education and later as Minister of Information & Culture. Before his incarceration, he served as Eritrean Ambassador to Germany (2000-2001).
Adhanom Ghebremariam (in exile): Adhanom, former student at Addis University, joined the EPLF in 1971. Most of his revolutionary career was in the military wing of the front. He was elected to the EPLF Central Committee at its Second Congress in 1987. He progressed through the military ranks as a Commissioner of company, battalion, brigade and division levels. Before independence he was moved to head the trade department of the EPLF. He held various posts in post-independence Eritrea: Regional Administrator of Seraye, Attorney General of the State of Eritrea, Ambassador to Sweden and later Ambassador to Nigeria. Adhanom is actively involved in opposition politics in diaspora now.
Haile Menkerios (in exile): Haile, Harvard graduate, was once a leader of Eritrean Students of North America. He later returned to Eritrea to join EPLF in the early 1973, where he eventually became a member of the EPLF Politburo. From 1991 to 2000, Haile represented the Eritrean Government in various capacities including as Ambassador to Ethiopia and the Organisation of African Unity, Special Envoy to Somalia and also the Great Lakes region, and as Permanent Representative to the United Nations.
After the Open Letter to President Isaias Afeworki was published he abandoned the Eritrean Government and joined the UN. He served as the United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Sudan and South Sudan at the level of Under-Secretary-General. He is currently serving as the Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union (UNOAU) and as Special Representative to the African Union, at the level of Under-Secretary-General.