Testimony: Ex-prisoner of Brigade Six Sawa Print E-mail
By Anon (submitted by Elsa Chyrum) - Apr 25, 2006   

[This testimony by a former prisoner was provided to Elsa Chyrum, an Eritrean human rights activist based in London, UK.  The original, written in Tigrigna, is already published at Awate.com. Translation to English provided by EHRAG.]


In this period known as the 15th year of independence, there is no transgression that has not been committed in Eritrea.  But the people don?t know about it.  It is not surprising for the people to be ill-informed about what goes on their middle, given a period when the mass media like newspapers, radio and television conceal it.  It is based on this incomprehension that the people have been blessing a government they should be cursing.  But now, thanks to the Internet, all the crimes that are committed in the prisons are being disclosed to the people.


It is based on the above that I?ve been encouraged to share my experiences in the prison of the 6th brigade in Sawa [military camp.] This prison is found on a hilltop to the right of Sawa Camp. It was built as a temporary housing for those who enlisted for training after 1994.  But a government that cannot build factories or schools and whose only skill is to build prisons converted it to prison.


Sawa prison is made entirely of tin material.  Thus, the prisoners are suffocated by the heat during the day and whipped by the cold at night.  The government?s decision to build a prison in Sawa was not coincidental.  Its promixity [to the military camp] was a result of calculated effort to demoralize and weaken the resolve of the Eritrean youth.  It was intended as a warning to the youth who were flowing to Sawa; to instill fear and to emasculate the youth who witnessed the pain of those incarcerated.  It is not possible to chronicle the totality the pain the prisoners go through.  The magnitude of the pain is such that of those imprisoned nobody wishes to live, but to die.


For the most part, the cause of the incarceration is attempt to cross the border.  The imprisoned are male and female.  Likewise, those in the armed services are male and female.  The imprisoned also include Jehovahs Witnesses?who have been languishing in the prison for over 10 years.  Of the names I remember: Yishak Mogos, Neguse Teklemariam, Aron Abraha, Mussie Asfaha, Negede Teklemariam, Paulos.  Hope their mothers never have to witness the pain their children are enduring is all one can say.  None of them have been accused of any crime and, in general, this demonstrates the extent of the government?s contempt for the rule of law.


The daily diet of the incarcerated is limited to a piece of bread and lentil soup.  Their bodies have been severely weakened, but no mercy comes their way. Ill and weakened, they are engaged in forced labor over every ravine and mountain, chiseling and lifting rocks.  But their bodies are incapable of carrying rocks?and many have collapsed from hunger and disease.  In their weakened states, it is too far fetched to expect them to carry rocks: some of them can?t even carry their legs.

The authorities treat the incarcerated as enemies?no pity or sympathy is shown towards them. In their view, the imprisoned are not people but disposable objects.  Using their forced labor, they demolish what is to be demolished and build what is to be built. And the product of the forced labor is marketed as the product of Warsay-Yekalo [conscript army.]


The daily routine of those imprisoned is as follows.  On an empty stomach, from 6:00 AM to noon, we are engaged in work. At noon, we are given a piece of bread and lentils.  The same thing at night: a piece of bread and lentils, before we go to sleep.  An alternate diet is unthinkable.  The prevailing illness is mostly attributable to malnourishment.  The imprisoned are not allowed to get medical care or medicine. The overcrowding in the beds, the lack of bathing and the general lack of sanitation contributes to the sickness.


Due to malnutrition, lack of medical attention and hygiene, most of those in prison either are, or are on the verge of being, sick.  It is hard to find anyone who is not suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, malaria, diarrhea, TB, measles, and so on. Fleas, ticks, lice are the roommates of the incarcerated sticking to the emaciated skins and sucking it dry.  In our culture, it is customary to cry for the dead; I daresay that we should save our tears for these living dead.


The prison also holds parents. I remember names like Memher1 Kibrom, Aboy2 Bokure, Aboy Embaye, Aboy Hailai, Aboy Mehari.  These are all people with wives and children who had taken an authorized leave absence and, upon discovering the abject poverty of their family, overstayed their leave to earn some money to help their families.  But the cruel and merciless government has arrested them for extending their leaves of absences.


In January 2005, nearly 750 students who were sent to Alighidir [Western Eritrea, bordering Sudan] for the harvest season detoured to Sudan.   Of these, 60 unfortunate ones were arrested.  They were brought over to Sawa prison and stayed with us.  It is impossible to believe the beating they received can be endured by any mortal. It is not surprising for the government to take these measures?it knows that its legitimacy to rule is slowly being eroded.  It has no other alternative.  But what about the so-called combatants who have betrayed their people and chosen to be a tool of the government? What will become of them when the inevitable fall of the government happens?


Sawa prison is a compound that houses 12 tin houses. The houses have names like property of Wedi Shika, Bahta, Hinsa, Police, etc.   The youth have given up all hope on the government of Shaebia [People?s Front] and are risking it all and flocking to Ethiopia and Sudan.  To discourage the exodus, they had threatened that they had given orders to shoot on sight anybody who is caught crossing the border or on a leave without authorization.  Even now, one can?t say that they have rescinded the order.  But they understand that they have not been able to intimidate the youth. 


Understanding that I couldn?t continue on like that, I too plotted a way out of the hands of sadistic devils.  I began consultations with prisoners I trusted.  In the end, ten of us escaped together.  With bullets being fired at us, we ran, each following his own path.  Because we were all dispersed, I can?t say who lived and who died. But thanks to the help of the Creator of the heavens and the earth, I and my companion crossed over to Sudan in two days.  Although apart physically, spiritually we are with our people who are suffering the brutality of the cruel government.  God find a way out for those in prison and justice and peace to the people of Eritrea.


1.Memher is Tigrigna for Teacher. 

2.Aboy is honorific, a sign of respect by youth towards the elderly

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