Aster Fessehatsion was a former freedom fighter, women’s rights activist and government minister who was arrested for criticising the president and the government.
Aster Fessehatsion joined the Eritrean liberation movement, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) in 1974. She became a political commissioner and executive representative of the National Union of Eritrean Women, the EPLF’s women’s association. After independence in 1991, she worked in various government ministries in Asmara, and was elected as a representative of the Eritrea’s only political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice party (PFDJ), which was formed from the EPLF. Due to her criticism of the government she was dismissed from her government job in 1996 but was re-instated in 1999 during the war with Ethiopia.
During 2001 there was an emerging criticism, led by political dissidents, known as the G-15 or Group of 15, within the PFDJ party, of the way that the President was running the country in general and the party in particular. She was arrested during a round-up of the G-15 which included her former husband, then Vice-President of Eritrea, Mahmoud Ahmed Sheriffo. Aster has been held incommunicado without charge or trial since September 2001. The status of her health and whereabouts are unknown.
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights ruled in November 2003 that G-15 dissenters arrested in September 2001 in Eritrea, which includes Aster Fessehatsion, were being held in arbitrary and unlawful detention. It called upon the Eritrean government to release and compensate them. The Government of Eritrea has ignored the ruling and the G-15 members arrested in September 2001 remain in detention.