Idris Said (Abba Arre)

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Idris Said, also known as Abba Arre, was a civil servant and columnist. He wrote critically about Eritrea’s language policy and the arrests of writers in September 2001, when the government cracked down on the independent press. His whereabouts, health, and status remain unknown as the Eritrean government has repeatedly declined to provide credible answers to questions about imprisoned journalists or to allow visits from family or lawyers.

Idris worked at Eritrea’s Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare and contributed to the privately owned weekly Tsigenay and the state-owned Arabic newspaper Eritrea Al-Haditha, according to journalists who spoke to CPJ and Abraham Zere, then the executive director of the free speech advocacy organization PEN Eritrea in Exile, who spoke to CPJ in 2018.

In February 2001, Idris wrote an article in Tsigenay that criticized the government’s language policies in education, according to the U.S.-based news website Awate, which has archived a translation of the article, and the free speech organization PEN International. Journalists who spoke to CPJ initially said that the article, in which Idris criticized the privileging of Tigrinya over other languages, had been published in August or September. They said that Idris had been arrested because of this article, but Abraham reported that Idris drew ire for denouncing the wave of arrests of politicians and journalists in September 2001. Abraham told CPJ that Idris was arrested in October 2001.

In a June 2016 interview with Radio France International about the status of journalists and politicians arrested in 2001, Eritrean Foreign Affairs Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed said, "all of them are alive" and they "are in good hands." Asked if they would face trial, Osman said they would "when the government decides" since members of the group are "political prisoners."

A veteran of the Eritrean independence movement, Idris has a pre-existing disability, according to PEN Eritrea in Exile, and according to a 2002 report by Amnesty International, this disability was likely to cause “special problems in detention.”

In October 2018, Paulos Netabay, director of the state-owned Eritrean News Agency, told CPJ that the arrest of journalists in 2001 was connected to “acts of subversion and treason by some former politicians” and that the cases had been “submitted and decided by the National Assembly.”

In June 2019, a group of over 100 prominent African journalists, writers, and activists wrote an open letter to Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki asking to visit the imprisoned journalists and activists, according to a copy of the letter that was published by the South African newspaper Mail & Guardian. In a response published on its website, Eritrea’s Ministry of Information said that only reporters with a “genuine interest in understanding the country” were welcome and said the imprisoned journalists were arrested for “events of sedition.”

In October 2021, CPJ and 15 other human rights organizations, journalists, and human rights experts called on the Canadian government to impose targeted sanctions on senior Eritrean officials for human rights abuses, including the imprisonment of journalists. 

In July 2022, CPJ and a coalition of rights organizations and lawyers, led by the Canada-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, filed a complaint on behalf of detained Eritrean journalists with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

CPJ’s calls to Eritrea’s Ministry of Justice either did not connect or rung without an answer in November 2022. A person who answered when CPJ called the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November 2022 could not be heard clearly. 

Emails sent to Eritrea’s minister of information, Yemane Ghebremeskel, and Eritrea’s embassies in Kenya, the United States, Switzerland, and Sweden were unanswered or returned error messages in October and November 2022.