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Human rights cases

Haile Woldetensae, Eritrea

Eritrean MP Haile Woldetensae has been held incommunicado without trial since 2001, one of a group of 11 seized after criticizing the country’s president, Isais Afwerki.

Haile Woldetensae met Isaias Afwerki when they were both students in Addis Ababa in the 1960s. They dropped out of university to join the Eritrean Liberation Front, from which breakaway groups later created the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). In 1974, Woldetensae joined the EPLF’s central committee.

After the country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Afwerki became president, and Haile Woldetensae held several high-ranking government posts, including those of minister of finance and development, minister of foreign affairs and minister of trade and industry.  

But in September 2001, he and 10 other MPs were arrested on treason charges after signing an open letter critical of the president. The letter called for “peaceful and democratic dialogue and the rule of law”. The detained MPs were denied access to lawyers and their families, and have been held ever since without charge or trial.

Eight months later his wife, Roma Gebremichael, was also detained, reportedly for helping her son flee the country while he was subject to an indefinite period of national service. Roma Gebremichael was also a government critic and a former EPLF fighter. She too is being held without charge and incommunicado.

Haile Woldetensae, who was born in 1946, was reported to still be alive are recently as 2010, said to have been blind and in extremely poor health. There is no word on the condition of Roma Gebremichael.

It is thought likely that both have since died, given the extremely harsh conditions in which they were being held. 

Most of the other members of the group are also now believed to have died, although the government has never confirmed this.