Yusuf Mohammed Ali (Yusufzai) was clearly bothered; something must have went wrong. I tried to reach him by phone throughout the day to no avail. His office was not that far from mine, we usually talked on the phone or met to have coffee almost every day. I talked to his friend, the journalist Zemenfes and he told me that Yusuf hadn’t been to the office the whole day. I began to worry a bit. All kind of thoughts went through my mind. When you work as an independent journalist under one of the most horrible regimes in the world, you must have a sixth sense to see, sniff and smell danger. Like a bloodhound in the field, I smell blood and something told me that things were not right. I decided to go to his house. Yusuf Mohammed Ali lives in Akhria, a district of Asmara where some of the most generous, enlightened, gregarious and occasionally rich people live.(More on that later on)
Yusuf lived with his wife and their four very young kids. As an editor of the weekly TSIGENAY newspaper and with no other work to augment his income, like some of the journalists at that time, he lived a little bit above the poverty line. Very little is known about Yusuf within the circle of independent journalists. According to the scant information I had, he was a very active member of the Eritrean students in the Middle East and a son of a well known family in the lowlands. He was a man of few words and one of the most humble Eritreans I ever knew. But the cadres and the PFDJ dogs at the Ministry of information (enda zena) didn’t like him and were fanning all kinds of rumor and misinformation about him. If you are a Muslim in the fascist state of Eritrea, it is the easiest task for the regime’s intelligence services to defame, malign, libel, arrest, torture and finally kill you. All the butchers need is for your name to sound a Muslim name and if they sense an iota of dissent, or opposition to tyranny or even a simple opinion, or a passionate commitment to your faith and God, then they multiplied it a thousand time and added a terrorist label and the unsuspecting citizen is on his way to the slaughterhouse. And sadly many Eritreans buy the regime’s utter lie and blatant deception …….(anta iti kustos jihad iyu neyru ilomo…anewn kurub tertire neyre).
Countless Eritrean Muslims perished in this manner and this is not a breaking news to most of us as happens almost daily in the land of the godless beasts known running the state of Eritrea. The cadres of Ministry of Information (MOI) were spreading and even talking openly all kinds of nonsense against my colleague, friend and prison mate Yusuf M Ali from day one of the launching of the independent press. The persistent rumor was that he has relations with Sudanese intelligence services and he was a personal friend of hardliner politician Hassan Al Turabi. I remember what one stinky (honestly he smells bad) Enda zena censor told me about Yusuf and another person whose name I will withhold for now. After the usual bribe of two pack of Rothmans cigarettes, lunch and few bottles of beer, the over crammed cadre started to open up. “Where do you know Yusuf and so and so….abey tifeltom nezom sebat..?”
I told him they are my friends, contemporaries and fellow journalists…”
“You better be careful…inte tetenqeqka yihaysh.”
“Why?” I retorted.
“We have reports that they have secret dealings and connections with the Saudi Embassy and with Turabi…..Yusuf was seen leaving the Libyan embassy.” He continued, “I shouldn’t have told you this but….akribe iye zinegreka zelekhu niskha bizuh zeytfelto negerat silzelo tray tetenkek.”
That is how ordinary people are judged, labeled, libeled, slandered, their reputation and character maligned, tarnished all over and finally killed or buried alive in that lawless jungle of Nazis known as the state of Eritrea.
As one of the few Eritrean independent journalists who speaks and reads Arabic fluently, Yusuf had access to many publications, newsreels, magazines and media reports from the Middle East and the Arab world in general. His paper TSIGENAY was a highly reliable paper with quite substantial readers, both inside and outside Eritrea. Though journalism and the business of newspapers in general is full of competition and editors are in a mad rash to attract a large number of readers, Yusuf was one of the handful of journalists with little interest for money, profit or fame. If he found or read something very important in the Arabic media concerning Eritrea or the horn of Africa, he gladly shared with me and other Editors without any qualm with a cheerful spirit. Very few editors did that. Imagine editors of the Washington Post sharing or happily giving very important news item or hard to find interview to the editors of New York Times or other publications! It is almost unheard of in the newspaper and media industry. But Yusuf was a unique person and man of honor and unfettered kindness in those dark and scary days of1999-2000,where there was a glimmer of hope and aspirations for better life and change was buzzing all over the nation.
I will never forget about Ramadan in the year 2000. It was a very tense, exciting, stifling, demoralizing, energizing, encouraging, and disappointing all in a bundle. The Algiers peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea was signed. The bloody war has stopped. There was a talk of demobilization of the tens of thousands of national service members. There was even a report of unconfirmed source that the regime will pay money and award scholarships to the national service members. With the advent of the new millennia and the 10th anniversary of impendence day, there was a wide spread talk of releasing political and other prisoners of conscience. I personally heard it from mid level PFDJ bureaucrats that the regime was going to free thousands of prisoners, mengisti mihret kigebr iyu……
Imagine how the families and loved ones of the detained arrested or disappeared felt! To find your family member alive when you though they have vanished, and find them free again is tantamount to a miracle in Eritrea. So the air was full of joy and optimism. This buoyancy and hope was amplified by the fact that many among the elite of the EPLF/PFDJ gang were sharing the people’s aspirations and desire for change openly—unheard and unthinkable even few years earlier. From top army commanders to low level administrators, every Eritrean was thirsty for change and a new beginning and a new era was on the horizon, we all believed that. There was also a sense of fear, dread and insecurity among the population. Many people who had a good knowledge or insight of the EPLF were not ready to believe that EPLF and Isaias might change. They correctly translated the heavy silence and news blockage by Issias and his worshippers as a lull before the storm and the inevitable slaughter of the sheep by the blood thirsty PFDJ wolves. It was a moment of confusion, anxiety, hope, fear, courage, disillusionment and gratification for us few Eritrean independent journalists in those terrible days. We all knew that if the reform movement is strangled and the people’s desire for democratic Eritrea is quashed, we were among the first in the line of the firing squads. We were not babies and all of us can sense and knew the PFDJ gangs and their leader’s hate and despise for the independent press and journalists in general. I went to Akhria to see my friend Yusuf Mohammed Ali in the month of Ramadan 2000,under those uncertain times.
Greetings to you all and especially Muslim Eritreans men and women in this holy month of Ramadan. My deepest love and appreciations to all of you who been so generous and kind to me and my family all these years. May the Almighty bless you and give you strength to soothe your pain and anguish inflicted upon you by the barbaric and atheist HIGDEF regime. To Muslim Eritreans inside the largest prison of Eritrea, may you have all the courage and power to overcome all the terrible things happening to you and your beloved ones by the PFDJ beasts. Let’s hope and pray to see a merry and a joyful Ramadan, Eid and all other religious festivities inside a free democratic law abiding progressive nation of Eritrea, ruled by a sane, normal God fearing people. Amen!
After I went to see Yusuf in Akhria,I found him clearly depressed. Though he is a quite person and kind of sad most of the time, I never seen him in that mood before. “Are you ok?…what happened..?” I asked. After a long pause he replied, “I am not OK and things are getting out of control…they are trying to smear my name, indict me falsely and make it easy for them to arrest me”.
What is that?” I asked him bewildered.
“Please we have enough actors already and don’t act as if you don’t know..” Despite his quiet demeanor, Yusuf sometimes pokes jokes and he can be humorous so I start laughing. I ask him again to tell me what was going on. He said it is Ramadan and it is almost Futur (breaking of fast) time and we will talk after futur. He asked me if I need some tea. I said I can wait for the futur and we can have dinner together. After breaking fast and prayers (salat), food was provided by his wife. A delightful array of bountiful food was on the plate. In the land of scarcity, rarity and utter poverty, I am always impressed by Muslim Eritreans openhandedness and unbelievable kindness towards others. Unlike the highlander homes where the first thing you will be asked is a fake and superficial invitation, “shahi do keneflih…” and the guest’s expected and even guaranteed answer will be “no, no hiji setina bezeyqelalem hiji ab geza setina…” On the contrary, go to any Muslim home, from the rich and affluent around Mai Chehot to the destitute in Hagaz town you will be served generously and with an open heart and big smile. Despite his little income, a large family to take care of and other health issues, my friend Yusuf was a giving, caring nice person. When I saw the array of food I joked and said “so the rumor of connection with Turabi must be true…iza mis turabi tibahal zelamo haqi iya mesleni…” Yusuf laughed uncontrollably. He rarely gets mad or irritated but at that time he told me that this Turabi nonsense is getting out of control and some stupid people are really believing it. The PFDJ can create a lie and false story and can believe their own lie!!
He told me that he was called to the department of the intelligence (hagerawi dihnet) and was warned by some military officers that if he continues like this, they will make him vanish into thin air. They told him that the intelligences services have found that he has relations and contact with Libyan and Saudi intelligence services and with opposition groups outside Eritrea. They also accused him of connections with Hassan Al Turabi people……Yusuf was dumbfounded! “Where is the evidence”, he asked, “ Since you said you have the evidence I want to see it…what is going on. I am a simple journalist and couldn’t even provide sufficiently to my family…” He tried to plead his innocence.
What kind of ridiculous accusation is that? A humble journalist and editor with three employees and distribution of a few thousand copies, having connections with intelligences services of the Sudan and Saudi? The reply Yusuf gets from one of the butchers summed up the mode of working (modus operandi) of the thuggish group.”We don’t need to show you evidence and you don’t need one…just remember we have a long arm and eyes that can see even inside your bedroom….! Be careful or else…..!
Yusuf M Ali was not the first Muslim Eritrean and will not be the last one to be terrorized, tortured, butchered, and made to disappear in this devilish republic of mengsti ertra. Myriads of Eritrean Muslims been taken from their home and beloved family in the middle of the night, snatched from their shops and business places, gun-butted in front of their students like Ustaz Hamednur, killed and thrown in to unnamed pits or left to rot inside the hellish dungeons all over the land. I am not saying this because I read it somewhere in the foreign affairs journal or heard it from Al Jezeera news channel. I was there, I have seen it all. I am a living witness to countless crimes and tragic atrocities of the evil regime and system in Asmara against Eritrean Muslims. I was there when the terrorist regime kidnapped many Eritrean Muslims during Ramadan of 1994. I personally interviewed the brother of an Eritrean Tailor who was taken away from his home in the town of AdiQeyih. I was there in Keren when the PFDJ hyenas took away many Eritrean Muslims from their home in Ad Habab in the environs of Keren . Where were they taking them? To show them musical comedy by wedi faraday? The answer is simple and everyone knows what the fate of these and other thousands of Eritrean Muslim could be. A one way ticket to anguish and utter agony!
I am not bringing these up to be divisive or incite hatred among anyone. I am just telling the truth, plain and simple. When you are a writer or journalist, if you don’t offend somebody, then you are not doing your job. As one of my heroes in life, the journalist and renowned analyst AbdelBari Atwan said it, “Someone has to be not only offended and affronted but his soul should be knifed and should be compelled to feel the pain and torment of others.” That is what real and authentic journalists or writers do. Not full of political correctness laced lies and sweet articles full of appeasements and sugar coated writings calling for unity, brotherhood, we are one, aynifelale gibberish, while intentionally ignoring or downplaying the quandary of millions!! Who doesn’t like harmony and brotherhood? But before all that to happen damages should be addressed and wounded sprits should be mended. At least sincere efforts should be made especially by the intelligentsia or our part time politicians. Tons of lies and cover-ups will take us nowhere. Courage and audacity to face our demons and twisted history is the way for reconciliation and coexistence in the future. That is what brave people and political leaders all over the world are doing, especially in countries and societies full of tragic and sad histories like us, from Lebanon to Libya Iraq to India.
In those terrible days and years, in the land of endless agony and engulfing terror, trepidation, and trauma where you can be grabbed from the streets by the fascist vultures and sent to the gulags the next day with slim chance of returning back, the month of Ramadan was one of the few happy moments to me. I will never forget the delightful moments I had with all the wonderful Eritrean Muslim friends. In spite of the common myth and belief among many, the majority of Eritrean Muslims are not rich or wealthy. Many families are on a day to day battle to feed their families like almost every Eritreans. Despite all these and despite living amidst the worst and wicked regime in the history of Eritrean Muslims and Eritreans in general, I will always remember fondly the unconditional love and help of my Muslim brothers and sister all these years.
I was born in Akhria in the household of the pious, caring and incredibly nice people of Shambel (Captain) Awelkher Ali Bekhit. So Akhria and its amazing fine people are like, and in many instances, even more than my family. Not only in Ramadan and other festivities, every day in those gloomy dark days, the magnificent God fearing virtuous people of Akhria, were more than my family or so called blood relatives and I will never cease to tell their utmost humanity and kindness till the day I depart this earth. The wonderful family of Ustaz Abdela and their gentleness and sympathy, the righteous and magnanimous noble family of My brother Brhanu M. Said who opened their house every day, even though they were not of unlimited income and times were tough. The cheerful and nonstop charitable friend Semir, who allowed me to live in his house for free (I repeat for free!!) in my lowest and desolate moment. Where in the world would a landlord allow you to live for free for months? How can I forget Mama Zeyneb (Zeynebey) the mother of Eritrean independent journalist and my buddy Khaled Mohammed Abdu? She was my neighbor in those days. Her husband and father of her children was murdered by the Derg Regime. Her eldest son was kidnapped by the Higdefites and his whereabout is unknown till this day. Khaled, thank God barely escaped from the jaws of the blood thirsty jackals and arrived in Sudan (He was one of the first to escape from the killing fields). She was alone taking care of one challenged son. Every time I went to visit her, she was full of smile and high spirits, and I never saw her in a sad and dejected mood. I will never fail to remember what she told me one cold morning in her house after tea. To my question and inquiry about how she handles all these….she calmly replied, “Every thing is possible with Allah……that is how I am able to cope with my Allah…….Milkias wedey mis Allah imber bimntay dea nAllah hizna imber…..”
That is how Mama Zeynebey and millions of Eritreans Muslims cope and endure everyday life under this filthy crumbling atheist regime of Isaias Afewerki. In this Holy month of Ramadan and in the soon coming festivals of Eid Al Fetr,I wish you all the best and may Allah give you more strength and power to overcome evil and triumph in the coming glorious days. Amen!