Eritrea fought a protracted war with Ethiopia to secure its independence, a war which only ended in 1991. Bitweded was one of the outstanding figures of Eritrea’s Liberation Struggle. In the war to liberate Eritrea from Ethiopian control, his role was vital and essential. Yet he has been in prison ever since 1991. He was released for three months from December 1997 to March 1998, only to be rearrested and sent back to prison where he remains to this day.
What was his crime?
We do not know because he has never been charged with any crime.
But what did they accuse him of in court?
What court? He has never had his case heard in a court of law. There is no due process of law in Eritrea.
Well, what was his offence?
Besides being an Eritrean in Eritrea, a state of being that can lead to arbitrary arrest at any given time, nobody knows.
Is he among the general prison population?
Eritrea itself is a giant prison but Bitweded Abraha has been granted the privilege of solitary confinement in a remote prison cell for nearly three decades.
His innocence cries out for justice. Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE) has been speaking out for justice for Bitweded Abraha for many years. Nothing else has happened to bring his case to the attention of the world. His plight is shared by others; Bitweded Abraha is one of the tyrant Isaias Afewerki’s many thousands of prisoners without advocacy, without a voice, their chains invisible to the rest of the world. He is even kept away from other prisoners.
To speak of freedom is treason in Eritrea. His very existence is a testament to the government’s inability to allow any Eritrean to speak freely without fear of retribution.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted opinions concerning Bitweded Abraha’s unlawful detention, during its eighty-third session, from 19–23 November 2018. Their findings made clear that every illegality in Mr. Abraha’s treatment which HRCE had been pointing out was indeed true. The UN Working Group decided that “the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Abraha was “arbitrary”, notably because “There has been no trial.”
The UN Working Group concluded thatMr. Abraha had been “deprived of the right to challenge the lawfulness of his arrest and detention before a court of law, of the right not to be subjected to solitary confinement, of the right to be tried without undue delay, of the right to have a defence, and of the right to a fair trial.” Their categorical list of illegal action and omissions by the government of Eritrea could not have been more clear or comprehensive.
But the government of Eritrea has since made no effort to remedy their omissions or even acknowledge their long-term brutal treatment of a man who must be seen as innocent unless convicted by a court of law.
It is also very significant that the UN Working Group singled out for condemnation the illegal behaviour of the Eritrean government especially because Eritrea had become a member of the UN Human Rights Council, which should automatically ensure it adhered to UN human rights principles in all its actions. One might ask how it is even possible that a country whose human rights abuses are only exceeded by North Korea could be permitted membership in the Council. The UN Working Group pointed out that “Eritrea made extensive and voluntary pledges in its candidacy for a seat on the Human Rights Council”, andthat it was high time “for Eritrea to show its active and effective commitment to human rights through full cooperation with UN special procedures , and for the enforcement of the present opinion.”
“The Working Group requests the Government of Eritrea to take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Mr. Abraha without delay and bring it into conformity with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
Elizabeth Chyrum, Director of HRCE, commented: “It is high time that Eritrea takes immediate note of this clear and categorical condemnation of its illegal actions by a UN body, and frees Bitweded Abraha forthwith. Otherwise the world can see clearly the contempt which the Eritrean government has for the very UN bodies it pretends to respect and for the rights it is pledged to uphold. Unlawfully detaining Bitweded Abraha, an innocent man in solitary confinement for 29 years, should outrightly be condemned and the Eritrean government should be held accountable.”
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)