I believe it was a telltale sign for what was to become an everyday act of terror and cruelty. If not a sign then it might have been the birth of brutality. If not a sign or birth, then it must have been the revelation of what was suppressed since adulthood of the one who is masterminding these actions. In any case to the Eritrean people and us in Diaspora it is all the same.
It has already been Thirty Odd Years since the young, brilliant, full of energy, enthusiastic and ingenious Eritreans became the first to be imprisoned under the guise of security and stability in Sahel by the sole order of the present day and self appointed president of our country.
Those promising martyrs were baptized with a name “Menka.at” and the circumstances and pseudo-rationalization for detaining and imprisoning them is still continuing on others to this day.
I am afraid to say, but this will be a routine event as long as the perpetrator is in position of absolute power.
I knew it then and I know it now that Isaias has no interest in democracy, free will, right of individuals, the rule of law and so on and so forth.
When I read Ali Said’s interview and his response to the rights and situations of the prisoners of conscience, I was astonished that nothing have changed since the time I had acquaintance with him and as a matter of fact also with Isaias.
The year was 1994 [editor:1974] and I was young and innocent. But from the first day I joined the then EPLF, I was terrorized by what I started to observe and especially when I was advised by a high school close friend (now a high official in the government) not to inquire about the prisoners of conscience or to have interest in their whereabouts or their situation.
What he did not know was, I perfectly knew where they were kept (in foxholes in Bleqat) and I sometimes saw some of them from a distance when they were fetching water and still that photographic image lingers in me.
Then in February 1975 there arose a seismic movement within the unit I belonged to because some of the members of that company want to know, not only the welfare of the prisoners, but also, about the time of justice…(because during the rounding up of the Menkae all Tegadelti were given assurance that the detainment will only be temporary and the “mutineers” will also be brought to justice in a matter of few months).
The few months became a year and half and those who sensed danger started to ask their unit leaders…merahti haili.. (At that time company was the highest unit in the organization).
The Merahti Haili sent the information to Isaias and guess what: Ali Said was the one who was sent by Isaias to all the units in Semhar. Our company happened to be in Semhar (Mai Shuro) and here comes this man roaring and threatening. He refused to listen and rounded the ones he thought were agitators and sent them to the same damned prison in Bleqat. The rest of us (who happen to be new) were dumfounded and scared to death.
Another important date I will never forget was September 29, 1976. In Fshei Mrara.
The Thirty, most important people in the organization, except Ali Said who at that time was leading the attack in Nakfa (a three-month military debacle that took Martyr Berhe Tsada three days to undo the failure and liberate Nakfa- and unfortunately lost his Life) and Ramadan Mohamed Nur who was in Somalia.
I was the youngest and the newest in the organization. So imagine what I felt to be in the company of these leaders… Mesfin Hagos, Petros Solomon, Drue (chairman) Alamin Mohamed Said (secretary), Beraki, Sherifo, Sibhat, Stifanos Bruno, Ibrahim Afa etc…etc… and of course Isaias.
This was the meeting that laid the ground work for what was to follow and even until now: the demise of ELF, the enmity with Woyane, the detainment and murdering of people like Dr. Iyob and I can self assuredly say also the detainments we see and hear today.
The meeting took three days in complete secrecy. Out of all that was discussed there, there was one question I will never forget. If my memory served me right it was raised by Afa. The question was about the situation (kunetat) of the imprisoned Menkat.
Isaias, as I have observed him on many occasions, had a habit (by design of course) of sitting three feet away from everyone, thus disturbing (breaking) the perfect circle of the attendees. The closest persons sitting besides him were Sibhat to his left and Sherifo to his right.
Isaias brusquely answered the question by saying- in his exact word- ” they are done”…(tewediu iu) and in a threatening gesture said the question should not be raised by anyone, anymore.
I reflexively looked at the faces. It was dark and I was sitting between [Ibrahim] Afa and Mesfin Hagos and what I saw froze me in time: abject trepidation.
There and then I knew that I couldn’t stay in that organization any more.
The other important action plan that was decided in this meeting (this meeting was a prelude to the first congress) was to round up the Yemanawyan. And after the meeting was concluded, with no time wasted, to be exact in three days, the first Yemanawyan were rounded up in Tikul, Hadish Adi and Tserona.
Poor Yemanawyan. Unlike the Menkae, no one defended them; no one raised a human rights issue; no one asked their whereabouts or their welfare and all perished without a trace.
And now after thirty years the same man and the same method is used to roundup innocent people and us the naïve people, are everyday hoping against hope that this will stop and the prisoners of conscience will be freed.
But what are we dreaming? Why would a mad man change his behavior if every time he takes an action nothing happens to him?