Eritrea: bring back Ibrahim's mother

Ibrahim was born in the 1980s in 'The Field' – the part of Eritrea that had been 'liberated' by those fighting for the independence of the country, from the murderous regime of Mengistu Hailemariam, dictator of Ethiopia.

Many young Eritreans have spoken with pride and happiness of these challenging but stimulating times. All adults took careof the children because the biological parents were often in combat. Youngsters like Ibrahim went to school, the classrooms often being the shade under the trees. And in Western Europe and North America, liberal thinkers, writers and activists saw the Eritrean struggle for liberation as indication of a bright future for Eritrea and a beacon for hope for sub-Saharan Africa.

The victory of the liberation fighters in May 1991 was widely celebrated throughout the world and it gave young Ibrahim the chance of a more normal childhood. His father, Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo (commonly known as Sherifo) had been fighting for independence since 1967 and held senior posts in the new Eritrean government, including that of vice president. Ibrahim's mother, Aster Fissehatsion, joined the liberation struggle in 1974 and, after liberation, was a member of the country's National Assembly and Director of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

For ten years, Ibrahim slept in a bed in a house and his diet was varied: it wasn't chickpeas almost every day, regularly there was fruit and sometimes even meat. After a challenging start to his life, young Ibrahim had a bright future. But one day, the lights went out.

On 18 September 2001, Ibrahim was at home with his mother when soldiers came to take her. On the same day, Sherifo was also arrested along with all of the country's leading journalists and the other politicians who had demanded more democracy for Eritrea. Seven months earlier, Sherifo had been dismissed as Minister for Local Government after distributing a document from a committee preparing to introduce multi-party elections, ignoring orders from the president.

Since that day, Ibrahim has not seen his parents nor received any news of them. Aster and Sherifo were put in solitary containers in another world surrounded by darkness but, whether they are in life or otherwise, they are not forgotten. Ibrahim is now a young man living in America. Aster's sister is in Britain and there is a huge Eritrean diaspora across the world.

And there is Amnesty International. More than fifty years ago, Amnesty was established to ensure that prisoners of conscience are never forgotten even if governments have caused their 'disappearance'. Aster Fissehatsion is one of those prisoners of conscience – taken solely for exercising her right to freedom of expression. And we must make sure she’s not forgotten.

Show Ibrahim that he is not alone – call on Eritrea to release his mother, Aster Fissehatsion, and all other prisoners of conscience.

Further information about the thousands of Eritreans held without trial and due process can be found in the Report of the Commission of Enquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.

By Alex Jackson, Country Coordinator for Eritrea

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