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Yesterday's Heroes, Today's "Traitors"!
Semere Tazaz

I remember an old maxim that rings on my ears as I remember the valiant Eritreans that are confined in dungeons of the brutal Eritrean dictatorship: "A candle, no matter how flickering, is worth a light in darkness." Yeah! None of us would know the beauty of light unless we have been through darkness.

The nation is in darkness; its children in constant fear, its tradition in despair, its harmony in cliff-edge, its youth in manacles. Worse to these, countless are in prison cells for causes no reasonable mind would accept; for reasons no court would uphold; for an end, however, all humanity would laud. Every Eritrean who happens to read this article has a relative or a friend who was, is, or will soon be in the darkness of the daunting cells of the dictatorship. I have a lot of these but...

Today is the second year of the detention of the Eritrean journalists of the private newspapers of Eritrea. I dedicate this piece to these heroic friends of mine and their compatriot Eritrean youth.

These are the brave journalists who are suffering agony for upholding the truth, for advocating openness, for heeding to justice and for dreaming reformation. My brothers, fathers and friends; they are in the middle of no where and I have no news of their whereabouts as I write this article today.

In today's Eritrea, where sycophants are heroes and heroes are traitors, everything is unpredictable; so bizarre that no one can understand. In that Eritrea, people like Sium Tsehaye are labeled as Weyanes. The charismatic man who was a Yikea'lo and the first Director of the Eritrean Television is now a "Traitor". How many of us didn't get a chance to see any of the documentary films sponsored by the EPLF? May be Few?! How many of us don't know Sium Tsehaye as a cameraman in battlefield who shot films like the Shadushay Werar in Nakfa and the Kib'tset documentary film in Massawa? Almost all of us! The war for liberation is now a history, but people like Sium were those who documented the history. Paradoxically, the regime that acclaimed him as a hero yesterday, didn't allow him to shoot the Werar Weyane. I remember him saying, "I still can't believe that they didn't allow me to shoot the war in Igri Mekhel".

"Big Deal?!" said a friend of mine after I told him about Sium Tsehaye and Fessehaye Yohannes (Joshua), another Yikea'lo. He [my friend in Europe] said, "You are talking about a brutal regime that kidnaps elders awaiting death, let alone journalists!"

No one thought that Joshua would be arrested for he was a PFDJ member per se. But like my dear friend said, Shaebia is "a group of lynch men that arrest their own compatriots". Joshua stood for the truth, was open in challenging wrongs, and bold in publishing openness and that is what makes him different from the so-called Shaebia. In the eyes of the dictator, though, Joshua betrayed his country.

I remember the last days I was with a number of these heroes; they were eager in their cause to bolster freedom of speech in the infant openness of the nation; devoted to their readers and close to the heartbeat of their fellow citizens... when the evil mornings of September 23 and 25, 2001 grabbed them. They were the first and the last private journalists in the reign of Eritrea's dictatorship.

I am nostalgic of the mornings before September, 2001 when people of all ages and professions stood in queues for those wonderful articles in the private newspapers. My fellow Eritreans were conscious of all events and fields of knowledge from local news to the Middle East, from history to Astronomy, from law to romance. All of that would not have happened if not the zeal and sweat of these golden friends.

I know something, nevertheless. They are my candle and I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Their cause and determination is the light that we see in the darkness.

I miss Medda [Medhanie Haile], the happiest and most cheerful person I have ever known. Not because he was living blissful life, but because he was unique when it comes to overcoming any challenge. His words were hortatory and his efforts unspeakable. Anytime he gave me assignments, he had to remind me something. "Let's always be balanced". He was my buddy without whom Keste Debena would be a failure. He was in Barentu when the Weyane occupied the town. He abhorred Weyane and fought them with his gun-powder and ink.

Most of them were journalists, as well as soldiers. They earnestly said, "Alenalki" to Eritrea. They asked the Ministry of information if they could join the Eritrean Defense Forces. But today, that same Ministry is accusing them of "Treason". Not a surprise for someone who knows the nature of Eritrea's leadership.

I remember Dawit Habtemichael, my favorite journalist, one of the most assiduous columnists and reporters I have ever met. His virtuosity of writing ten articles in ten hours was unique. Unbiased and always for truth: lauding the government for the good it used to do, and criticizing the same when it failed. He was a teacher by profession, the youngest of the journalists in jail. Though possible, he never dared to write unconfirmed news. He used to say, "I hate the word 'zeytetsareye zena' ". Together with Mattewos Habteab [Machu], another gregarious journalist to whom it would take seconds to get to know people, they ran one of the most successful newspapers, Meqaleh. As I write this piece, Machu's father is lying sick in his bed. Aboy Habteab, a sixty-year old father, has been in a precarious condition suffering from unknown illness, most probably linked with depression.

Dear readers, tell me one reason why this poor man should not be in travail if his dear son has been in undisclosed dungeon inside the motherland?

This has become the fate of not only Aboy Habteab but also of the many 'Aboys' and 'Adeys' of Eritrea whose beloved children have been picked up from the streets and their sleeps and taken to destinations known only to their sadist jailors.

They [the PFDJ] called him a "Jihad", just because his name is Yusuf Mohammed-Ali. He is in his 50s, the eldest journalist: A role model in integrity, a gentleman in courtesy and a star in humility. His newspaper, Tsigenay, never posted a single article that reflects Jihadist ideology. I know him very well and he is far away from that kind of mentality. I remember sometime back in 2001 when I met "Yusuf" and asked him if he was planning to post his paper on "". He had told me, "I am trying to publish it on the Internet but not necessarily". "Well", I said, "I heard that is affiliated with Jihad, so be careful". I always considered Awate as a website affiliated with the opposition groups until Dr. Reesom Haile, may his soul rest in peace, told me that Awate was in fact an independent web site. My apologies to Awate.

Back to Yusuf, he replied: "Jihad! Niyo belom!" He said that if that was the case he would prefer Asmarino to Awate. Yusuf is that innocent. Nevertheless, he is a Muslim. Ironically, by default he should be Jihad.

How can I forget "Kirbit" [Temesghen Ghebreyesus]? He was a fellow squadron member of mine. We slept and dined together in the trenches. He was so funny that he could make a fun out of horror. One day near the Emba-Soira frontlines, we were stormed by an army of kunchi [fleas], the whole battalion forced to take clothes off and he said: "And now Weyane has launched another attack!" A staunch nationalist and known for being too hard on Weyane. He directed several films that reflect the war with Ethiopia.

Standing; From Left to Right: Wedi Gandi, Temesghen Ghebreyesus (Kestedebena Journalist), Semere Tazaz, Filmon Tekle, Wedi Embadlay,
Sitting; From Left to Right: Tesfaldet, Wedi Ali

Said Abdulqadir, a brother of more than five Warsays. The co-founder of Haddas Admas, out of his pockets. A master journalist, had thousands of fans for his multifaceted newspaper. A devout believer of freedom, he commited no crime against the sovereignty of his country. He interviewed Minister Haile Weldensae (Dru'e) and for that reason, remains imprisoned.

What about Amanuel [Wedi Asrat], one of the few talented poets that Eritrea has ever had? He knew no bounds to the quest for information and had such an insatiable hunger for poetry. His works were reflected in the works of some of the acclaimed Eritrean artists. Yohannes Tquabbo (Wedi Tquabbo) - famous for the song "Hagerrey Nmennom Tefqrri" - once said that he would not have attained his fame had it not been for the invaluable support of Wedi Asrat. Wedi Asrat was one of the inspirers for the foundation of the famous open debate on artistic works held every Saturday in Casa Degli Italianni - the Qurssi Qeddam Ab Te'amot. Who would benefit from the disappearance of such a superb asset of Eritrea's nascent journalism save the green-eyed regime of Eritrea?

They were journalists and reporters, freelancers and writers, movie writers and directors, teachers and lawyers, poets and artists. But all have something in common - They loved Eritrea more than any one can imagine. Some of them liberated the nation, others defended it. They were the typical Eritreans who knew what Eritreanism means? But today, their names are marred with "treason", "collaboration with the enemy," and "receiving money from foreigners."

I would not go into justifying their cause for it is justified by itself; I would not go into defending their truthfulness for it is by utter blindness that they have been detrained; I would not shout alone for the heartbeat of the Eritrean masses is on wherever they are. They are labeled as "Weyanes" and "Traitors", but they were, are and will remain to be our juggernaut heroes. There is no political madness that "TIME" can't heal and I pray that God/Allah remembers my friends, brothers, sisters, mothers and compatriots. I hope against hope that I will be able to see my brothers again.

Semere Taézaz, contributed and has sole responsibility for the content on this page. For comments you can contact the writer by e-mail: Semere Taézaz
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