The arrest of US citizen and WNBA star Brittney Griner last February by Russian authorities has garnered a considerable amount of attention. Ever since the news broke, the media, politicians, and celebrities have demanded her release. However, there is another US citizen who was arrested by a foreign government and barely garnered any attention: Ciham Ali Abdu.
Ciham Ali is a US-born citizen from Los Angeles. She was only a 15-year-old high school student at the time of her arrest.
Ciham Ali was arrested by the Eritrean government back in 2012 at the Eritrea-Sudan border after her father had a falling out with President Isaias Afwerki. For reference, Eritrea is located in East Africa bordering Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
Eritrea is home to arguably the world’s worst dictatorship. With rampant human rights abuses, forced military service, and no press or religious freedom, it is considered the North Korea of Africa. Due to this bleak reality, tens of thousands flee the country each year.
I am writing about Ciham Ali because she is unable to do that for herself. Most politicians, the media, and celebrities don’t even know who she is. Ali has been in a prison somewhere in Eritrea and the government has refused to give any update on her. Her family doesn’t even know whether or not she is alive or what she looks like.
The US State Department has yet to intervene in her case. Rep. Karen Bass has tweeted about her once.
I was in Eritrea just last month.
The country’s leaders should release Ciham, who had a birthday this past week, and all of Eritrea’s political prisoners to send a message that the country is embarking on a new path that includes respect for human rights. https://t.co/SRNwhebD1P
— Congressmember Bass (@RepKarenBass) April 6, 2019
One of the most troubling aspects of Eritrea is how the government treats its citizens with very little regard for their own well-being. Once you are in prison, you are often subjected to torture, physical harm, incommunicado detention (no contact with the outside world), sexual violence, and more. The government of Eritrea treats its citizens as a threat to power.
Ciham Ali has never been charged with a crime, had access to a lawyer, or had a trial or jury of her peers determine her fate. Why is she locked up? Well, President Isaias Afwerki considers her to be a threat due to his opposition to her father.
Her case continues to receive almost no attention while Griner’s case keeps making headlines. This isn’t right.
Yes, both should be free. But it’s just as important to push the Eritrean government to release Ciham Ali Abdu as it is to protest Russia’s detainment of Brittney Griner.
The author of this article is from Philadelphia, PA. He is an Eritrean human rights advocate. We would not normally publish an anonymous article, but are making an exception in this case so his family in Eritrea does not face backlash.