On April 14, Eritreans in the UK started a weekend of activities as Commemorating Eritrean prisoners of conscience. Many Eritreans attended the morning and evening sessions of events and Mesfin Hagos was one of the attendants. Minor chaos ensued when a person publicly accused Mesfin as a perpetrator of the arrests and disappearances of Eritreans that happened in Eritrea when he was the minister of defense. The first minister of defense was Petros Solomon (imprisoned since Sept. 2001) and Mesfin Hagos was the chief of Staff. Around the time of the referendum in 1993, he became the minister of defense briefly until he resigned in 1995 after a clash with Isaias; he was replaced by General Sebhat Ephrem.
Like many others, Mesfin has been on the receiving end of accusations since he abandoned the PFDJ and joined the opposition sixteen years ago! It’s understandable that he bears collective responsibility together with other leaders of the ruling party, and if he is accused formally, only a competent court of law can try and sentence him. Importantly, the Eritrean opposition that is basically struggling against the brigandage of the unjust Eritrean ruling party which is known for its Kangaroo Courts, should not fall prey and be enticed by sentiments of mob justice and kangaroo court trials. This is just not what the Eritrean stands for.
In addition, if there is anyone who feels he has a case against Mesfin Hagos, or anyone else for that matter, the court doors in the West are wide open and anyone can seek justice in the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada, as well as in Europe. Failing that, creating endless wedge issues within the anti-PFDJ camp has become so destructive and confusing that it seems some are struggling for the sake of struggling and not to uproot the PFDJ, and replace it with just system that respects the citizen, and ushers peace and stability to Eritrea. And we believe the incident was a disservice to the prisoners, to the event, and to all of us who hold the cause of our prisoners very seriously. Such politicking should be shunned from venues dedicated to justice and human rights campaigning.
To see what transpired in London last weekend, we surfed the social media outlets where unfortunately ruthless wars are being waged, and found a post on Hamid Drar’s page, which we believe gives our readers a glimpse of the incident. The following are excerpts of Hamid Drar’s Arabic Facebook post of April 17, 2016 that we translated into English.
The title of Hamid Drar’s post is, “Prisoners’ Commemorative Day And An Attempt to Divert The Message” and a subtitle, “When inverted logic prevails, one tends to hear his preferred melody only and nothing else!” He says that, “circumstantial emergency compelled” and he could not attend the seminar that was held in commemoration of Eritrean prisoners in the vicinity of the Victoria Station in central London.
His post is based on reports passed to him from a friend who attended the seminar and thanks his friend who, “exerted gracious efforts and did a good job, and made available to me information that I didn’t dream of…”
The post then shifts to a new subtitle, “The Surprise, stealing the spotlight, and diverting the message of the Prisoners’ Day,” and tells us that he came across a post that “was posted on a Facebook page of a distinguished friend.” His friend had posted a picture of Mesfin Hagos who had to appear to address the audience hastily, impromptu, at the event, “of the Prisoners day, that was marred by a lack of clarity for one reason and another, which, in my mind, created a fertile ground for the activities to be diverted to an unintended path.” Hamid states what was “written over the picture of Mesfin Hagos on my friend’s page, literally came as follows:
“The activist Mesfin Hagos is now speaking on the Eritrean Prisoners’ day commemoration in London, and he is replying to the brother of a prisoner, who accused him that he is one of the perpetrators of the arrests of those who disappeared. And [Mesfin] says that he is ready to appear before any court of justice. But we must first we have to establish the tools of justice.
Hamid thinks that the author, “by his post, inadvertently created a fertile ground for people to go to serious deduction and conclusions,” and basically encouraged anyone who wants to spread confusion around, a justification.
The discourse above suggests that Mesfin’s conclusion was reached after a logical and contextual dialogue. And also it gives the impression that Mesfin admitted guilt and is waiting for the establishment of a court to surrender himself up to it. I wished if the content included the circumstances and reasons that occurred and that preceded the appearance of Mesfin Hagos in the foreground. I am not saying that would have stopped people from writing, but it would have been more elaborate and honest.
According to Hamid Drar, a man claiming to be a brother of one of the prisoners called Mesfin Hagos’ a criminal and a murderer because he was the defense minister when the arrests happened, “and he said that while pointing his finger towards Mr. Mesfin who was sitting in the back rows” Mr. Abdulrahman Sayed stopped the young man and told him, “We are not here to try anyone and this is not the place for such issues.”
“Mesfin Hagos had raised his hand to say a word about what he heard from the young man, but because the moderator, Mr. Abdulrahman Sayed, did not see him,” and because a number of “senior veterans who were sitting alongside him convinced him not to respond for reasons they mentioned to him, it seemed Mesfin was convinced and decided to keep silent and stopped raising his hand.
At the conclusion of the event, as Mesfin walked towards the exist gate, someone approached him and said, “why didn’t you respond and make your voice heard?” Amazed, Mesfin said, “I raised my hand but no one gave me an opportunity to speak, also the friends who were sitting beside me pressed on me not to respond because they didn’t see that worthwhile.”
At that moment, Suleiman Hussein intervened and told the person who was about to announce the end of the event, that Mesfin would like to say a word, and Mesfin basically said the following in Tigrinya:
“Thank you for giving me this opportunity. I’m not going to respond to what was said. I came here to participate in this anniversary because it concerns me just like it concerns the families of the prisoners and all Eritreans. Because I know the source and intensity and the magnitude of the campaigns targeted me personally, and it is still continuing, I expected more difficult positions, harder than just such talk. The reasons for such words is the general frustration and despair in which we live, but I will not accept it to be on my account, and it is not moral and logical to mention my name as an easy target as if I am responsible for the crimes of the regime.”
“I repeat here, as I have said repeatedly, I am ready to appear before any court of law to give my testimony and statements. But also, I say here that we must create the necessary ground and it is not appropriate to pass judgment against anyone in an arbitrary manner.”
“What surprised me was that some within the opposition practice similar methods that the regime follow, and we accuse the regime for not presenting the prisoners for whom the Prisoners’ Day is being commemorated, to a court and state that the regime didn’t provide a suitable environment and legitimate trials but adopts the law of the jungle. Do you not think in such a manner that some pursue the same wrong method?”
Hamid Drar writes that “normally, in the absence of legal references… the open cyberspace leads us to the wheat from the chaff, to witness those who write whimsically without scruples of conscience or accountability.” He further emphasizes, “It is normal and acceptable to find people who write with acceptable justifications and convictions, even if we do not adopt what they write…but we accept it as diverse views.” He goes on to criticize those who write their views in terms of “Yes-no, No and yes at the same time, so that no one is displeased with them… this opportunistic logic is making some fraud people continue with their discourteous circumlocution by grabbing the stick from the middle.” Hamid states:
It is not required to defend people because … they are mortal, what is needed is to defend the truth because it is everlasting, and to tread a sound a safe path to achieve truth, and … to prevent jumping to conclusions and issuing sentences without evidence. Otherwise, as is the case now, the law of the jungle will prevail and people will hide behind the Internet, using aliases or presenting unknown names in the bylines of postings to discredit others who adopt different views and convictions in order to intimidate and scare them so that all can run away and Truth will remain elusive.
Whatever may be the case, and without going over the issues of accusations and campaigns that dates back to about a decade and a half … or, since a wing from inside Eritrea joined the opposition after the G-15 event, we have witnessed a heightened state of character assassinations and defamations, by printing tens of books targeting only to discredit certain individuals within the opposition, and not the [Eritrean regime]… and as I wrote seven years ago in an article entitled, ‘Who is accusing who?’ [There are] many files that if opened, maybe the court would have a say on them, and which might turn many things upside down, and might expose many so-far hidden sins. As a result, as they say, “He who laughs last, laughs a lot.” Some reckless people will not benefit from the safe havens that adopt the policy of “accuse and defame, issue sentences over the cyberspace and claim that freedom of opinion is guaranteed until you get at other people.”
It easy to defame and abuse, even to put on trial those who do not agree with our convictions, but whenever we practice such methods, achieving the goals that we aspire to, in order to build a genuine democratic system on the basis of citizenship and equal opportunities, would be far-fetched. And any system built on the basis of oppressing others by those who desire to build such a system by character assassinating others through wanton accusations, and counter-accusations, can only bring about the birth of a repressive system not any better in its sadism than the authoritarian regime that is oppressing Eritrea and its people.
The message of the Prisoners’ Day was hijacked and diluted by bringing a side issue that does not benefit the prisoners in anything but confuses the case. Therefore, whoever raised it did a great service to the executioner of the prisoners, and not the opposite. In the future, I hope the coordinating body of the Eritrean Prisoners’ Day will prevent what happened yesterday from happening so that the message reaches its destination the way we all wish it.
Hamid further criticizes certain members of legislative councils of several opposition organizations who commented on the post of the Facebook page that had the picture of Mesfin for jumping “to ride the wave of abusing Mesfin, strangely, some of them are lawyers who know the procedures of civil and criminal trials. Then there are those who grab the stick opportunistically and made comments—people who are expected to tell the truth, even if it is supposed to be self-incriminating.”
Hamid further criticizes media personalities:
“inconceivably, there are great brothers who are supposed to avail their media outlets in order to help establish truth and the solidarity of the opposition… we note that one of them wrote words that make us doubt our quest to build a free and fair media as a substitute to the regime’s media in Asmara, and that is if we take the comments as a benchmark for understanding a media person that we are seeking to make a substitute for the media of the regime… and the owner of a second website who provided a link to a book full of insults and attacks on the person Mesfin Hagos.
He made the link to confirm the validity of what came yesterday evening in London, hastily, without waiting for the clouds to clear from the skies of the foggy city, and for the truth to be uncovered. As for our third friend, an owner of a website, he limited himself to clicking “Like” on the post, perhaps thinking it was a neutral word in such a reality.
Between 2004 and the end of 2007, I used a phrase that I often repeated when I was a broadcaster the Voice of Freedom radio the station, which was broadcasting to Eritrea. And I see some leaders of the opposition organizations, and journalists who have made comments that are in contradiction with what we expect of them, to play roles beyond the current situation of the opposition, and to work on bringing the opposition together, and to get us up from our stumble. But contrary to that, I find them contributing in hiding the poison in the fat; and I find myself repeating the old phrase anew, “May our glorious and proud nation be safe.”
Clarifications and addendums:
- The man who held the microphone at the function was Omar Zerai who on behalf of the function coordination entity apologized to Mesfin Hagos for what happened to him, and he paved the way for him to respond to the accusation.
- Osman Shekai said that he is the young man who pointed his finger towards Mesfin Hagos and therefore denies what was attributed to him.
- Suleiman Hussein and Abdu Abdallah were at the podium only to submit papers for the session. And Abdulrahman Sayed (Bohashim) was the Moderator.