‘Silence is betrayal’ Association of Eritrean Journalists Press Release

‘Silence is betrayal’ Association of Eritrean Journalists Press Release 17 September 2013 For many Eritreans September is remembered as a month of pride and sorrow. It was a month that marked the start of Eritrea’s armed

‘Silence is betrayal’ Association of Eritrean Journalists Press Release

17 September 2013

For many Eritreans September is remembered as a month of pride and sorrow. It was a month that marked the start of Eritrea’s armed struggle that ultimately culminated in its independence. It was also a month that marked the start of an era of one man rule and political liquidation. However, for the Association of Eritrean Journalists in Exile (AEJE), it’s a month remembered in bitterness every single day with a double tragedy. In one way, it was a month where the thriving private newspapers were made to be shut down on September 18, 2001 and to make things even worse the regime decided to incarcerate all the editorial board members thereby to vanish in the wilderness of Era’Ero prison, a prison regarded by many of us, as the modern day Auschwitz Concentration camp. Consequently, according to a credible eyewitness account of a former prison guard, several of our colleagues are presumed dead, as a result of their torture wounds.

For us fighting to change this unbearable state of affairs is not a matter of a passionate political activism, it is rather a struggle for a person in a death row, for our colleagues are not in detention to serve their prison sentence, but to die a slow painful death. Even though far from home, we are haunted by the constant thought of the nightmarish fate of our colleagues in particular and our country by in general. As time goes by, we are increasingly feeling helpless and desperate, as every second counts for our colleagues. Hearing their legs and hands tied from their back 24/7 for 13 years, is something beyond any sane person’s comprehension. At the same time, it is something that we should all feel ashamed of, because seeing fellow human beings being treated in such an inhuman way, at a time when animal rights are respected is inexcusable and intolerable. The international community should never allow such an act of barbarism and heinous crime to go unpunished, hence, again we call upon the United Nations Human Rights Council, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the European Union foreign Affairs Commission, to intervene and pressurize the regime through all possible means, as it is time to say, no more business as usual, enough is enough.

And yes we are in prison with them, if not physically but mentally their pain is ours too. Had it not been fate, many of our colleagues in exile today could have vanished in Era’Ero prison. Some lucky ones escaped after years of detention, now suffering with post-traumatic stress as a result. But, in spite all these challenges, our association is still determined to fight back the dictatorial regime to release our colleagues without any precondition. We will never be silent until justice prevails and all those culprits held accountable.

The harrowing unprecedented massive attack on the private media happened, at a time when we had least expected. Eritrea; unlike many other African countries is a country born out of 30 years’ bitter war against Ethiopian colonialism. By a conservative estimate it paid 65,000 of its youth to realize the dream of being free and independent. And the launch of the private newspapers in the early 1997 was a testimony to many humble Eritreans, the price paid was not ended up in vain, for they had come to enjoy and cherish the down of an Era with the newly found freedom of expression.

Many ordinary citizens began to constructively criticize to the transitional government in an effort to help create a prosperous and democratic nation. But, after so much sacrifice and struggle, and after 13 years of imprisonment of our colleagues, today we ask, what have we achieved so far? Today the dream of many of our citizens have evaporated into the thin air, today we got neither prosperity nor liberty; today we got neither the trial of our colleagues nor their immediate release. Today we got nothing, but lost everything. All what we got today is a country that ranked first on the list of countries with the worst record on press freedom violations, surpassing North Korea. Today we also got the massive flight of our colleagues to seek refuge elsewhere, in an effort to spare their lives.

But, today we still have hope that one day, this manmade disaster will become history, that one day we will all sit and reflect back how we had failed and let this massive disaster to happen in front of our own eyes and that one day we will take a bold measures to prevent such kind of an adventure from ever happening again.

Our message to fellow Eritreans

The regime doesn’t attempt to kill the messenger by arresting our colleagues, but the intention was the message. A message is far more dangerous than an individual’s threat for a regime, who has so much to hide from the rest of the public. Hence, imprisoning a journalist is silencing the rest of the population from speaking up against injustice. Therefore, silence is betrayal and we call upon all justice loving people in general and Eritreans in particular to raise their voice in unison in spite of their seemingly big difference of opinion. We should always remember it is our collective failure that led to the deterioration of our present situation. Over the last years, we have failed to see the big picture, by concentrating our effort extensively in attacking and counter attacking with each other, as if we had the monopoly of power to shape the destiny of our country alone. And a minute spent on such endeavor really hurts, it is like empowering the very regime to continue torturing our citizens back home unabated and in the process our people back home feel increasingly hopeless and helpless.

Therefore, our main focus should always be the regime; we can’t always expect to resolve our difference of opinion, but we can only discuss them, however, that shouldn’t pass its limit and turn into outright animosity. With no democratic atmosphere in place, where such opinions could only be judged by the wider public, their importance seems irrelevant at the moment.

Our strategy to fight the regime should be based on the realistic objective situation on the ground, other than on superficial idealistic aspirations. We should always remember not only our opinion, but equally others opinion also matters as much as ours in building a pluralistic democratic state. Hence, on this occasion our association would like to call upon all our political opposition groups and civic organizations, to create and embolden a united front in spite of their differences of opinion. Once a liberated democratic Eritrea is created all our differences could easily be discussed and if possible resolved through democratic means. Once again our private media will play the crucial role of minimizing the gaps and in facilitating to heal the wounds sustained by generations’ old oppression. And thereby cultivate a culture of tolerance, which is a cornerstone for sound democracy.

Finally, we would like to plea again that the focus of our energy should be mounted towards fighting the real enemy at home and everyone who throws a single stone towards this objective should thus be regarded as a friend, regardless of his/her political opinion.

 

Short biography of our colleagues in prison

 

Name Mattewos Habteab
Age 35 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles Editor, Meqaleh (Echo), a maths graduate from the university of Asmara

 

Mattewos Habteab founded Meqaleh in 1998 with Dawit Habtemichael, and Yehdego Ghebremedhin, whose whereabouts are unknown but is believed to be doing military service.

Mattewos was editor of Meqaleh until June 2000, when he was called up for military service, possibly because of his work as a journalist. A year later he returned to his job in Asmara , but was arrested and taken to the ‘Track B’ military prison in Asmara where he was secretly held for approximately six weeks. A few weeks after his release he was arrested again in late September as part of the Government’s clamp-down on the independent press. He has been held incommunicado in Era’Ero prison ever since.

 

 

 

Said Abdulkadir

Case Details :

Name Said Abdulkadir
Age 34 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown. According to Reporter Without Borders, Said Abdulkader has died in prison.
Former Roles Chief editor and founder of Admas , also worked for Ministry of Information ( Haddis Eritrea newspaper)

 

Yosuf Mohamed Ali 

Case Details :

Name Yosuf Mohamed Ali
Age 44-46 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown. He has an eyesight problem. According to Reporter Without Borders, Yusuf Mohamed Ali has died in prison.
Former Roles Chief Editor, Tsigenay and a business studies graduate from the university of Asmara

Yosuf Mohamed Ali was arrested many times before his final arrest on 18 September 2001. He is married with four children.

 

 

Amanuel Asrat

Case Details :

Name Amanuel Asrat
Age Unknown
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles Chief Editor, Zemen (“Time”), EPLF member since the 1970s

 

 

Temesgen Gebreyesus (kirbit)

 

Name Temesgen Gebreyesus
Age 36 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles Sports reporter, Keste Debena (“Rainbow”), amateur actor

 

 

Medhanie Haile

 

Case Details :

Name Medhanie Haile
Age 33 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown According to Reporter Without Borders, Medhanie Haile has died in prison.
Former Roles Assistant chief editor/co-founder, Keste Debena(“Rainbow”), employee of Ministry of Justice, a Law Graduate, University of Asmara

 

Dawit Habtemichael

Case Details :

Name Dawit Habtemichael
Age 30 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles Assistant chief editor/co-founder, Meqaleh (“Echo”), science teacher employed by Ministry of Education.

Dawit Habtemichael graduated from the University of Asmara in 1997, where he studied physics. He became a physics teacher at Asmara Comprehensive School , a post he held until his arrest.

He began writing whilst still studying and, in 1998, founded Meqaleh with Mattewos Habteab. During the border war with Ethiopia he was supportive of the Eritrean government. Mattewos Habteab was called up for military service in June 2000 (possibly because of his work as a journalist) and Dawit became acting editor. When hostilities ended he began to write more critically, calling for the constitution to be applied, elections held and restrictions on the press lifted.

When Mattewos was arrested following the closure of the private press on 18 September 2001, Dawit spent a few days in hiding before returning to his work as a teacher. He was then arrested and taken to the First Prison, Asmara . His current whereabouts and medical condition are unknown.

Dawit is unmarried and has no children. His mother died in 2000, but his father works as an administrator in the high school in Asmara.

 

 

Dawit Isaac

Case Details :

Name Dawit Isaac
Age 38 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles Reporter/co-owner and first editor of Setit

Dawit Isaac holds Swedish citizenship from asylum claim and refugee recognition in the 1980s. He is married with three children. When the journalists were moved to undisclosed places of detention after beginning a hunger strike in early April 2002, Dawit was separated and taken to hospital and held under guard there. However, after he was released from prison in 2005 for a brief period, he was made to join the other prisoners in Era’Ero. And he is held there ever since.

 

Seyoum Tsehaye

Case Details :

Name Seyoum Tsehaye
Age 49 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested Late September 2001, Asmara
Health Reportedly in bad condition
Former Roles French teacher, freelance editor/photographer, Director of Eritrean state television in early 1990s until he was dismissed and EPLF veteran since 1976

He is married with 3 children, and has a degree in French Education from a college in Ethiopia . He is well known among EPLF veterans (fighters and civilians).

 

Fessaye Yohannes (“Joshua”)

Case Details :

Name Fessaye Yohannes (“Joshua”)
Age 46 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested September 2001, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles Reporter/co-founder, Setit , EPLF veteran since 1977

A well-known poet and dramatist, and director of an amateur cultural dance group. He studied Drama and Theatre in the UK for a year around 2000 (no further details available), and was the director of the EPLF cultural troupe that performed in Eritrea and abroad. He is married with three children.

Reportedly died in prison in 2003 in Embatkala prison.

Saleh Al-Jezaeri

Case Details :

Name Saleh Al-Jezaeri
Age Unknown
Sex Male
Arrested February 2002, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles Reporter on the government = s Arabic radio station and newspaper

Saleh Al-Jezaeri is reportedly being held in secret in a special security block known as “Karchele” (Italian for ‘prison’), which is behind the Second police station in Asmara .

Hamid Mohamed Said

Case Details :

Name Hamid Mohamed Said
Age Unknown
Sex Male
Arrested February 2002
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles News and sports editor on the government = s Arabic television station

Gebrehiwot Keleta

Case Details :

Name Gebrehiwot Keleta
Age 49 at the time of arrest
Sex Male
Arrested June 2000, Asmara
Health Current condition unknown
Former Roles Reporter, Tsegenay .

Gebrehiwot Keleta is a former ELF information officer who had previously been abducted from Sudan in 1991 and secretly detained without trial in Eritrea for eight years.


 

aseye.asena@gmail.com

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