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
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
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
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 "Awate.com". He
had told me, "I am trying to publish it on the Internet but not
necessarily Awate.com". "Well", I said, "I heard that Awate.com 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