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Expressen Gets Its Wrong

By: saay

The online edition of Swedish newspaper Expressen has an article with the heading (in Swedish) “Ministern bekräftar: Har lämnat regimen”. Google translate assures me that this means “Minister confirms: Has left the regime.” The article carries the byline of “Kassem Hamadé” who says that he got all this information (“world exclusive interview”) from his brother Saleh Younis who was speaking on his behalf. Well. So, the spokesperson of the Eritrean regime now has a spokesperson who speaks for him?

This is what happened.

Kassem Hamade called me to see if he can get in touch with Ali Abdu. I gave him the standard answer: Ali Abdu is not speaking but I will relay your message to him. This is usually where conversations end. In this particular case, I made an offer: I cannot speak about the specific case of Ali Abdu, but I can speak about the nature of the Eritrean regime. This way, every time a minister defects, you–Western reporters, Western governments–can adjust your expectations in terms of the news you can expect.

I made this offer because I feel for the family of Dawit Isaac. I have high regard for the humanitarian values of the government and people of Sweden: there is one Eritrean-Swede that they have and they have gone all out to inquire about his health and security for 11 years. However, when I see them and other human rights advocates taking the approach of let’s organize a petition to, for example, the Justice Minister Fozia Hashim (!), it is clear to me that they have absolutely no understanding about the true nature of the Eritrean regime.

I have a special affinity for two journalists from the Eritrean Spring, when the Eritrean private press was blooming in 2001: one of them is Dawit Isaac. We belonged to a (very brief) mutual fan club, and he sent me autographed copies of his books in April of that fateful year.

My message to Kassem Hamade was this: if a special plane–let’s call it Scandinavian Airlines–somehow managed to transfer the entire Eritrean Cabinet of Ministers to the corporate office of Expressen, and if the entire journalistic staff of Expressen was to interview them for days, weeks, months; if they were to water-board them, they would not be able to get a single useful information on the whereabouts of Dawit Isaac or any of the thousands of Eritreans who have been made to disappear. If they interviewed the Police Commissioner, they would get nothing. Not because the ministers or other “senior officials” have superhuman powers of resistance but because they know virtually nothing.

Then, who would know? He asked. I told him that the most detailed information we have on the Eritrean prisoners came from an Ethiopian-government friendly Ethiopian website, (I even spelled out the url for him.) This is because Eritreans, by the thousands, have been crossing the border to Ethiopia, and Ethiopian intelligence interviews them and some of them are former prison wardens, intelligence officers, body guards of Isaias Afwerki, etc. They connect the stories together and they have the most comprehensive information on our political prisoners.

Who else? I told him he could talk to Eritreans who are very active in helping Eritrean asylum-seekers. Eritreans like Meron Estifanos and Elsa Chyrum.( I spelled their names and their facebook pages.) This is because some of the asylum-seekers are also former prison wardens, intelligence officers, etc. I told him that that is exactly how I got confirmation on the whereabouts of my father when he was first arrested in 2001: not from Ali Abdu, or Fozia Hashem: but from a former prison guard (who was also guarding student activist Semere Kesete) who told me where my father was jailed and who else was with him. It is from the testimonies that Elsa Chyrum got from Eritrean youth that we know what happened in Wia, Dahlak. It is from the testimonies that Meron Estifanos receives that we know how our Eritrean youth are being treated in the Sinai desert. And all the “cabinet of ministers” receive information about what is going on within their own MINISTRIES from us. When the Finance Minister (Berhane Abrehe) was recently changed, the “council of ministers” knew about it when the new guy attended the meeting. So, stop giving the families of the imprisoned false hope by chasing rainbows.

How is that possible, asked Kassem Hamade. I told him that the “culture” of the EPLF/PFDJ is to stick to your job, to never ask any questions about matters that do not concern you (the military culture of “loose lips sink ships.”) I told him that there is no paper trail: no email, no arrest warrant, nothing on paper; that orders are given by phone and that those doing the arrest say “you are wanted for five minutes.” I told him that those who are doing the arresting have no idea why the person being arrested is being arrested; the people guarding the prisons have no idea why the prisoner arrived there and how long he is supposed to be there. That is the “system” in Eritrea.

Our assumptions about who is “very close”, who is “very connected” are not right because the way Isaias Afwerki manages is by refusing to be predictable. You think so-and-so is next in line for the position of such-and-such? Wrong: he will surprise you. You think that Yemane Gebreab is super-close to Isaias Afwerki, he is a “special advisor”? Well, Yemane Gebreab assured the widow of Naizghi Kflu that the remains of her husband will be flown to Eritrea: and how did that turn out? Mustapha Nurhussein is best friends with Isaias Afwerki? How did that turn out?

In short, what Kassem Hamade is claiming a “world exclusive interview” with Ali Abdu was a “world exclusive interview” with me. I didn’t know I was that important, but I am flattered. There were only two questions that I said I would get the answers directly from Ali as I had no way of knowing the answers. (1) How does Ali feel about the arrest of Dawit Isaac? Is he sad? (2) Has the Swedish government tried to reach him?

On the first one, Ali Abdu told me that, of course he feels sad for the family of Dawit Isaac, but–and he said, “this is probably not the answer the journalist wants to hear–but Dawit Isaac is one of tens of thousands of Eritreans suffering and what makes me specially sad is the case of the next generation of Eritreans disappearing. I was 14 when I enlisted, voluntarily, because there were people I looked up to. And I fought for my country’s independence and to be able to deliver a better future for the next generation. Who does the new generation have to look up to?”

On the second one, whether the Swedish government has tried to reach him, Ali wanted to know why is that even relevant. I said, well, Western journalists are always trying to put pressure on their government to try harder. So that’s why. He said, “no they haven’t–and how could they if you are my contact person anyway, I am surprised you are asking me that question.”

In short, an interview I had with Kassem Hamade with my humble effort to try to shed light on how the mafia regime works in Eritrea, became an interview by proxy–“world exclusive” at that. When Ali decides to issue a statement, it will not be via a proxy and I am sure it won’t be on Expressen–with all due respect to the paper.

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  • Tewelde T.

    Thank you for the details on the interview mishaps.
    A spokesperson for the spokesperson means so much. A brother indeed, I respect that. On the other side if Ali Abdu values brotherhood and family have he tried to visit Aboy Abdu his blood father while they were kept in PFDJ’s prison? Did he told Isayas ” you are my real dad who made me the current Ali and not my bio… father Aboi Abdu “. When I knew that is how he went up high to the ministerial position, I was astonished. Never say never and now this has happened, what can we say. I know you are in a cross road as a brother and as an opposition. i know Ali was an insider and all round informed ” As a Father as a Son “. If you forgive him as a brother I’ll forgive him as an Eritrean too. Humans lack perfection!

  • Hayat Adem

    I’m happy Ali is out. I’m happy Ali is the one who moved to Saleh and not the other way. But, I’m really puzzled by Ali’s hesitation to declare his complete divorce with PFDJ and PIA. I mean if he were not calculative and indecisive to serve the PIA fully, why would not he start undoing once he makes his mind to call it a day with PFDJ and PIA? If he was not afraid of serving the jailers and finishers of Dawit Isaac, and the jailers of his Dad, how could he be hesitating to denounce in the open the moment he is not belonging to them anymore? How does he allow himself of passing a single day without declaring an official quite with the jailers of his daughter? May be Ali is not ready for the complete detach but how does our Saleh see all this reluctance? Just curious!

  • Sabrin

    It seems Expressen has removed the article from their website. Is it because of your above article?

  • moss

    it is nice to hear that some of the hardcore are leaving the sinking ship. Concerning Ali, he has made his choice to leave and i think that is smart. Now , we have to think about his family and when the right time comes , i really hope that he would shed some light in to the darkness that is PIA.

  • Kokhob Selam

    I would say to Ali Abdu, you have done what you can and stay in peace far from those confusions. you have learnt enough what politics is and you have seen how others play it. take your time and see more carefully till things be clear and know your place.

  • Mahamuda Danaba

    Guys this is not a time to criticize or make our selves busy with the issue of one person…it will be a great opportunity to get people like Ali Abdu cuz they hold golden information. Again it is not a time to be quick about z issue cuz member’s of his families are arrested in Asmara and their fate is under question.. i am sure zat he is disappointed about it.. May God save them from danger…I am sorry for them…

  • Abraham

    Guys, easy now. If we act like a mob and enemize Ali Abdu do you think the others in the PFDJ top will follow him? Really? We should be SMART and use this situation and oppotunity to encourage the others to leave the regime. Lets not just look at the what we want to know and what we want NOW but be far sighted and go for our vision..which is a democratic, free Eritrea. For that we have to “swallow some camels” as they say in scandinavia, or something like “ni mogogo ikas anchuwa..” I don’t know the rest.

    So lets be smart and focus on our goal and vision!

  • Amanuel

    Hi Sal
    It appears that you are trying to convince us that the only responsible person for the misery of Eritrea is PIA. I agree he is number 1 but there are others also. Ali was one of the insiders (wediWishti) and you should encourage him to come clean.

  • Sibhat

    Guys, were we not all worshiping PIA during earlier years of independence? Now why all these curses? Why are we using PIA as a scapegoat while the reality is what is happening to Eritrea today is because it lost both the war and economy of Ethiopia. Let us not forget we are created as dependent on Ethiopia. Let us not fool ourselves, on our own we are nothing, we are too small and unimportant.

  • khalid

    Dear Salih Younis .

    great job and please countinue leaking the info one by one , until Mr Ali Abdu get the proper time and mean to blow it himself and clear all questions raised by different squades of the Eritrean opposition and diaspora ,,

    to those who want Ali Abdu to simply come out and speak all the bla bla story of PFDJ i say please lets have some common sense and consider the man situation (all his family either arrested or under vigilance ) and now simply lets put ourself in his position and try to do something about it please for God sake a person has 2 countries 1 is his family(small) and 2nd is his counrty(big) now Ali abdu already lost his big country and it will be very inconsiderate and selfish of us to ask him sacrifices his family too …

    but inshallah a day will come he will do some thing better than hiding out for his life ….

  • Sabrin

    Dear Salih
    I understand your sympathy with Dawit. However, as a writer you know how media works. Twisting the information to their interest is a common thing. If Ali is not ready to be contacted by media I don’t understand why you are acting as a messenger.

  • Dang Blu

    Hi Saay,

    I need not say much b’se my previous posting has been given a ‘mesheti’ but if I get lucky with this, I will make it short.

    How and when were you able to contact your brother? or were you in contact all these years.
    Again very fishy…go ahead use a smaller “mesheti” for this one.

  • Dang Blu

    your selective posting is not appreciated.
    How and when did you contact your brother Ali Abdu?
    Have been in contact all these years….
    very fishy.

  • hizbawi

    When Ali was giving his life, his child hood and everything he has for the name of Eritrea; all of you were cowardly left the country; Ali left behind to serve and protect. As honorable person would do, he did liberate his country. Now, the cowards wanted Ali to apologize for you, for what? Where were you when he gave it all? What have you done worthy of asking for a person who gave all?
    One thing Brigadier General Haile said was,” please don’t push the rest of PFDG to fight to the end and defend the system”. Don’t push it. You may have something to lose, they don’t.
    you are nothing but a bunch of greedy. please respect people and respect what Ali Abdu has done in his life for you. don’t push it.

    • Dear hizbawi you do’nt know who fought for
      his country &who doesn’t ,we know even the dictator nd many of us have done just that.please don’t try to end the coversation by shoottin the messenger stick to the message.

    • danny

      First of all, we are citizens of a stae, a nation, not by choice but by mearly being born into it. We have a God given right to live in peace in the land of our ancestors. We did not ask any of the rulers that ruled us to this day to rule us, let alone in a merciless fashion like that of your dear PFDJ, we did not ask anyone to rule us even in a benevolent ways of their making- no we have never given our concent to be ruled by anyone. We did not ask Ali Abdu or anyone else to do anything for us as people. Some armed themselves volutarilyand some were kidnapped from their homes to bear arms and were forced to die in the name of liberation. These self acclaimed liberators have never been the representative of the Eritrean people. So please don’t you ever tell me that Ali Abdu or any other ruller has done anything for me. If anything, he broght misery to the land of my ancestors, and forced us to lose everything we valued. And you have the nerve to ask us to worship and respect him? Who do you think you are?

  • the secular socialist republic

    Dear comrade,

    I believe Ali Abdu should first ask the eritrean people to forgive him. Even though he has not been in the inner circle of PIA, he was in the government and will automatically be judged in case of a regime change. I believe you should ask him these three questions;

    – how come he only resignes now ?
    – what happenned to the g-15 (and please don’t try to bullshit people saying he doesn’t know) ?
    – is there any opposition to PIA in the PFDJ and/or
    the miitary ?

    • peace

      To which people the in door or our door people lol some people are acting like owners

  • Emilios

    What is going on awate. Bring the story yourself. Why didnt you say it instead of passing it to Expresen. That is not responsible. It does not matter how much you are trying to analyse the nature of his relationship with the regime, people deserve the right info. It is good that Expressen got it wrong that your silence.

  • haile


    The thing is that I know exactly what you are saying. Because, fate led me to see the GoE from very close quarters. Not by design but by virtue of sheer co-incidences. I doubt, however, many diaspora opposition or pro-PFDJ would really understand the substance of the point you are making here. It is a case of being unable to really imagine coldness from a very hot surrounding. Something like existentialist illusion of not being able to hear what is said in a different location than you happen to be. People need to know that a Minister is Nothing in modern day Eritrea. Ali Abdu, whom I know personally is just an ordinary working man. Don’t judge him on the basis of individual imagination or the VOA interviews you heard him holding. Just a simple man!
    Thanks for the info. saay anyway. Hope Ali is well and your family be safe too.

    • Robel

      Wed I Bizen,

      No wonder you came to the defense of your ex boss Ali Abdu.
      A “while ” ago you guys were Higdef mouthpices, and you just fled Eritrea, one following the other, as the ship starts sinking.It is good that we have a great name for such power hungry individuals-oporttunists!

  • nurhussein mohammed

    I believe ali abdu dos’nt have blood of innocent Eritreans in his hands eccept making mockery of their sufferring;in doing so he should come clean by apologizing to the Eritrean people &join the strugggle for librity!!!!!!!

    • henok

      As a victim of the regime, this is what I only need from Ali Abdu!

  • Papillon

    Is this intended to navigate people’s reaction as a prelude to a mega interview? I wonder. Oprah might as well win the exclusive and interview him for her OWN is struggling with the ratings provided Oprah mentions Sal during the introduction and people will be curious to tune in as Sal is well known with in the mainstream American urban legends.

  • Efrem

    Why I do I feel like throwing up when I read (hear) this from Ali Abdu: “Who does the new generation have to look up to?”.

    Aye Eritrea……:(

    • Mohamed Imam

      After you throw up, at least you know what you’ve eaten. Go vegetarian mate.

  • Asmaratimes

    Dear Salh,

    Greetings…Are you assuring the Eritrean people that Ali Abdu may testify agains the brutal dictator IA, and we may even expect a statment issued by him on this regard in the very near future? If that is the case, I assure you your brother will be forgiven by, at least by most of, the Eritrean people, and if he stands with the justice and democracy seekers of the Eritrean people he will have a great future and name in righting the wrong. I for one would welcome his expose to the brutal hgdef system, and such statment would greatly facilitate the fall of the system into the dustbin of history.

    • araya


      “I assure you your brother will be forgiven by”

      First of all what crimes did you know that are committed by Ali Abdu?
      Second; who the hell are you to forgive and to forget?
      I am discombobulated by this people’s ignorance.
      people, chill out and take it easy.

    • peace

      TO Asmaratimes
      who are you to forgive and or not forgive no owners and no yes people any longer

  • jim

    Why did Ali stay this long with the regime? And, why did Ali defend the regime so well for years while generations of Eritreans were being nuetralized?

    • peace

      why others received as hero’s when they defect or arrested no , campaign against individuals wekaru jahid terrorist blah blah who may tend find faults some are too brave people some are not brave people where is (Lbuna) here ITS not competition no longer yes people who agree with everything as we are learning , i need to feel equal , nit- picky websites as assenna, and meskerem

  • Hadnet

    Why dont you guys stop playing games. Gosh! Dont be too complicated. Life is short. While you are arguing about (“world exclusive interview”)or whatsoever, Eritreans are dying every hour. Stop stretching the misery.