Jailed at 15 she dreamed of being a fashion designer. No trial and six years later, she's still missing
Updated 1400 GMT (2200 HKT) April 3, 2019
Lagos, Nigeria (CNN)With her fresh face and bright, hopeful smile, Ciham Ali Ahmed looks just like any other ninth-grader.
But Ali Ahmed was imprisoned at 15 years old. Now, six years later, her family says they don't know where she is or what has happened to her since she was detained by Eritrean security forces while trying to leave the country.
The Eritrean-American citizen has never been charged or convicted of any crime, yet it's believed she's been languishing in an Eritrean prison since December 2012.
April 3 is her birthday and, as she turns 22, Human Rights Watch has called on the Eritrean government to free her and other political prisoners held in the country.
"By holding [Ali Ahmed] incommunicado from the age of 15, the government has effectively disappeared her," Felix Horne, senior Africa researcher at the rights group, said in a statement.
"The release of Ciham and all of Eritrea's political prisoners would send a clear message to the international community that the country's leaders are embarking on a new path of increased respect for human rights," he added.
Campaigners from the Eritrean diaspora such as "One Day Seyoum" have launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #happybirthdayciham. to draw attention to Ali Ahmed's story.
Her uncle, Saleh Younis told CNN in 2018 that his niece -- a dual US and Eritrean national born in Los Angeles to Eritrean parents -- was trying to leave the country because of Eritrea's policy of forced national military service for young people beginning at age 18.
Eritrea, often described as the "North Korea of Africa," has never had a national election; there is no free press and citizens are not allowed to leave without an exit visa issued by the government.
Forced national military service, which is supposed to last 18 months, can last indefinitely.
A Human Rights Watch report from 2017 stated that "physical abuse, including torture" occurs frequently for people taking part in national service. "...so does forced domestic servitude and sexual violence by commanders against female conscripts," it adds.
Young people in Eritrea are faced with either a lengthy conscription or embarking on perilous journeys out of the country to reach Europe.
"Everyone her age group tries to escape because of the military conscription," Younis, who is based in the US and edits an opposition Eritrean news website, explains.
"It's not like you're going in to serve and then in the 18 months, you are out. You go in and then you may never come out.
And that's why they leave in their tens of thousands," he says.
There were 459,430 Eritrean refugees around the world by the end of 2016, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Since Ali Ahmed's 2012 arrest, her family has made desperate attempts to find out what happened to her.
Ali Ahmed is the daughter of the country's former minister of information, once a key member of President Isaias Afwerki's Cabinet. He fled the country in 2012 fearing for his life as the President's rule became increasingly autocratic.
Her parents, Ali Abdu and Tsigereda Tsae'da, were part of the country's liberation force and helped to fight for Eritrea's independence in 1993, which is where they met and later married, according to Younis, who is Ali Abdu's brother.
Ali Ahmed's father now lives in exile in Australia. His wife and younger disabled son earlier fled to Canada because they feared for their lives, where they now live under new identities, according to an affidavit Ali Abdu wrote.
He wrote in the affidavit that he tried to negotiate to get his daughter out of Eritrea after he had fled when he found out his life was in danger. He said he feared she would face a life of permanent conscription if she remained in the country.