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They Spoke Truth To Power

There is no dearth of honest, courageous individuals who, at various stages of the evolution of Eritrea’s current dictatorship, spoke out and stood up to injustice. General Bitweded, whose historic 1997 speech exposed PFDJ’s brutal rule; Seid Ali Hijay (Wed Ali), and his colleagues, who paid the ultimate price in search of freedom and constitutional governance; the five Catholic bishops who in 2014 wrote a candid letter cataloging the country’s ills; Ambassador Mohammed Nour Ahmed, who in a 2001 meeting challenged the authorities to declare the whereabouts of those who disappeared in the early years of Independence (including teachers at Islamic schools in Keren and other towns), are all well publicized examples of such courage and principled stance. We also remember the G-15 reformers whose 2001 Open Letter was a radical departure from the autocratic traditions of the EPLF which briefly gave hope to Eritreans that a democratic future was within reach. Earlier, a group of Eritrean intellectuals warned of the disastrous direction the country was headed in as a result of the concentration of power in the hands of one man. Then, of course, there were the brave journalists who paid a heavy price for attempting to chart the dangerous waters of journalism under a despotic regime; and those elderly citizens whose sense of civic duty prompted them to plead with the country’s ruler to listen to the voice of reason, only to find themselves thrown in jail. There are also many less heralded instances of ordinary citizens taking a stand and challenging injustice and corruption in various regions of the country. Here, however, I will write about four individuals whose stories I am personally familiar with.

Mohammed Adem Bani was a former fighter with the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) who had settled in his home town of Sen’afe following Eritrea’s independence. Those who knew him say Mohammed was a free spirit who never hesitated to voice his opinion and had a penchant for intellectual debates – qualities which brought him on a collision course with the PFDJ authorities. In the public meetings called by PFDJ operatives in Sen’afe, Mohammed was not your average passive participant. He would always try to engage the meeting in real debate, whether it was about ways of organizing the community, about the delivery of public services, or other public issues. Occasionally he would bring a book or two along and quote some revolutionary thinker to support his arguments. Of course, such independent spirit and openly democratic attitude was not appreciated by the ruling party functionaries, who were not used to being challenged in real debate, and, hence, not in the mood to entertain his style, but Mohammed never seemed aware of the danger surrounding him. On 24 December 1996, he was snatched from his home by security agents not to be seen or heard from again. His disappearance was part of a wider crackdown in Sen’afe and Adi Keyih which targeted dozens of citizens in those areas. (In the same operation, Yousif Abubakr Fora of Sen’afe and his wife, Fatima Mohammed, who had screamed for help and tried to resist her husband’s arrest, were both killed on the spot).

Another poignant tale is that of one resident of Asmara who unfortunately his name I could not ascertain. He was a teacher (possibly a retired teacher) who lived in the Mercato area in downtown Asmara (in a building opposite St. George bakery for those familiar with the area). This teacher was a participant in a meeting for the residents of Asmara called by the provisional government in the early years of independence. A number of EPLF leaders, including Sebhat Efrem, presided over the meeting and gave speeches, then invited the audience to ask questions and provide comments. The teacher was one of those who spoke. After applauding the EPLF’s decisive role in bringing Independence, he urged the leaders sitting on the podium to invite their ELF counterparts and all former combatants who were outside the country to return home and participate in building their war-torn country. You brought independence, he told them, but they also did their bit in the struggle, and, above all, they are your brothers and sisters. “Hayli yebilomn ilkum AitnAqwom” (“don’t underestimate them because they lack power”), he stressed, “hade qumal ekua srrekha zefitiH!” (even a single louse can make you throw your clothes!). For sometime, this person went on with his life and never occurred to him that he had done anything wrong. In PFDJ’s book, however, he had committed a deadly sin and had to be punished. A few months later, he disappeared without a trace.

The third incident is one that I was a direct witness to. The day was 24 October 1994. United Nations Day was being celebrated in the main hall of the Asmara Municipal building. The celebration included a panel discussion that featured the representative of the UN, Mr. Herbert McLeod, Yemane Gebreab, Head of PFDJ’s Political Affairs and Tesfai Girmazion, Minister of Agriculture at the time. I don’t remember the exact topic of discussion, but certainly it was about Eritrea’s post-independence development, including economic and political development. When it came time for questions from the audience, a young man with a distinctive goatee (I used to see him in town but did not know him in person) addressed Yemane Gebreab with a question that caused a collective gasp in the audience. I remember that question fairly accurately. He asked Yemane why the EPLF was still “clinging to power”. Wasn’t it time it handed over power to a representative government? … After that incident, I saw the man for probably a couple more years in Asmara, but not afterwards. For many years, I wondered what had happened to him. Fortunately, I now know he is safe and out of reach of PFDJ’s bloody arm. I bumped into him in an Eritrean pro-democracy rally in New York in 2011. I am sure many of you know Samson Redeab of Washington DC.

The last story is that of my friend Mohammed Dawoud Raka, whose dead body was found lying outside his apartment building in Sembel Houses in 2009. Here is a reproduction of a March 9, 2009 Gedab News story on Awate_com about the late Mohammed Dawoud:


Mr. Mohammed Dawoud Raka, an EPLF veteran and director of Al-Amal (Jalia) school in Asmara, was found dead yesterday,Sunday, near his apartment in the city’s Sembel Housing Complex (Enda Korea). His bruised body was found lying on the ground under his fifth-floor apartment No. 502 located in Block 101 of the complex. There is a strong suspicion that he was murdered.

Mohammed Dawoud joined the EPLF in 1989 and was assigned to the Front’s education department. After Eritrea’s independence, he continued to work at the Ministry of Education. He served for several years as Al-Amal School’s deputy director and later as director.

In 2001, he wrote a series of articles in the government’s official Arabic newspaper,‘Eritrea Al-Hadeetha’, criticizing the government’s education policy, especially with regard to mother-tongue instruction. He made his views, regarding the lack of constitutional rule, known in the various seminars he attended, including a series that were held at Asmara’s Youth Club (the Junior Club) in early 2001. Overall, he was known for his outspokenness which at various instances put him in direct confrontation with senior government officials in his ministry. He was also known to be a close associate of many G-15 leaders and other members of the 2001 reform movement, including Mr. Idris Ab‘are.

In 1998, he was subjected to prolonged sessions of interrogation, which extended over several weeks, after being taken by state security personnel from his office in Al-Amal school and, in another occasion, from a café that he frequented. He also suffered similar harassment in the months that followed the incarceration of the G-15. Several friends, who knew about the perils of his life in Asmara, advised him to leave the country, but he was adamant in his refusal.

Mohammed Dawoud is a younger brother of veteran EPLF fighter, Mr. Abdalla Dawoud, who also died in mysterious circumstances in Asmara in 1993. Abdalla was a long-time member of the ‘Secretariat’ in the office of the EPLF Secretary General, together with Mr. Woldenkiel Gebremairiam (now minister of Land, Water and Environment), Mr. Saleh Keckia (G-15 prisoner) and Mr. Abraha Kassa (chief of national security). Last update March 9, 2009


Mohammed Dawoud was a man with an extraordinary sense of civic responsibility. I’ve rarely seen a person as conscientious and as disciplined as he was. Another quality was his clarity of mind and a cool attitude, especially when he was debating someone. He was very methodical and extremely calm and collected even in the face of the most belligerent opponent. The most striking and, to many, mind-boggling, attribute of Mohammed, however, was his apparent lack of any sense of danger. He was bewilderingly dismissive of the risks he was taking when he started criticizing the system openly in the late 1990s. I was living with him in the same apartment during those long nights of questioning in 1998. He would come home from those interrogations at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, sleep for a few hours, and then get up early and head to work. (He was taken to more than one secret house, each in a different part of the city, always after a long circuitous drive). The next day he would nonchalantly tell me and other friends over a cup of tea what had happened the previous night as if he was talking about any ordinary subject. What is more astonishing and, indeed, admirable, about Mohammed was that even as he was being haunted by the secret police he was always on top of his work. All those who knew him will attest to his managerial effectiveness as school director and his leadership qualities. He was a true professional who did not allow his personal troubles to affect his work.

When the reform movement emerged in 2001, Mohammed was one of its active supporters and is credited with translating from Tigrinya into Arabic (or revising) some of the movement’s documents, including the Open Letter. The thing that made many friends really concerned for his safety was that he did not change his critical disposition even after the crackdown of September 2001 which all but wiped out any space for dissent that existed hitherto. As late as 2005 (before I left Eritrea) he was entangled in a dispute with the Asmara branch of the Ministry of Education for refusing to administer PFDJ membership registration forms to his staff at Amal school. He always maintained he was an educator and his responsibility, which does not include recruiting for the party, was primarily towards his students. This position, among other things, displeased Girmay, the Branch head, as it did his predecessor before him. But Mohammed went even as far as openly expressing this view in a meeting for all school directors and other Ministry staff called by Girmay the purpose of which was to give instructions for the PFDJ registration process in schools (as was done in all other ministries and government offices). After making his position clear on the matter Mohammed left the meeting to the astonishment of his colleagues. I remember how, after that meeting, concerned workmates advised him to tone down his opposition to the authorities’ plans. But that was him and was never going to change.

About Ahmed Raji

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  • tes

    Dear dawit,

    yes you need someone to remind you if not who will sign for the dictator unless there is one who forgets what is going on.

    Only a dead mind needs a reminder. PFDJ followers need to be knocked for they should know what they are doing.


    • dawit

      Dear TES,

      Your COiE Mission is crumbling left and right. The “Slaves” in Eritrea, the National Service salary in Eritrea Quadruple instantly while the ‘Free People of Oromia are dying by hundreds! My advice to you TES is pack your belongings and move back to Eritrea, don’t waste you time as a refugee in France. The Sun is shining over Eritrea, the dark days are behind it! Live as free person in Sunny Eritrea. All you need is to sign that ‘TASA’ document at Eritrean Embassy in Paris and move on to your bright future.
      Your friend dawit

      • tes

        Dear dawit,

        I think you are fooling yourself by putting a dollar sign in front.

        First of all the money was taken from from the people. It is a money stolen from the people. No one can be happy by receiving money from a gangster who have robbed it from the innocent and unprotected poor people.

        In fact PFDJ has now become a day light pirate.



        • dawit

          Well tes,
          It is well known fact that PFDJ is the government of the people, by the people and for the people and they proved it all this week. Take it easy bro!

      • Abi

        The King also raised salaries for the military just before his demise. I was a very young boy back then. Tell me if you see any similarly.
        Happy new year. Good to see you .

        • dawit

          Thanks Abi, and Happy New Year to you and your family. There is no similarity between what Ababa Janhoy did and PIA. The king salary increase was done under a gun behind his back. His Prime Minister resigned and every minister was shaking. PIA increase the salary of the National Service employee, who were literally worked for their country for free, unlike the Ethiopian army that was recruited to protect him and his family while terrorizing their own people under harsh conditions from Negele Borona, , the Ogaden desert to Eritrea. The king’s salary was a bribe, whereas PIA’s increase is a reward for serving the people..

          • Abi

            That is interesting. I see some similarities between the two Kings. One raised salaries under a gun as you said it. The other quadrupled salaries from zero. ( I don’t know how to quadruple from zero) . Anyway, he ” quadrupled” salaries under the UN pressure. Why now? This is beyond bribing. Don’t tell me I am off. Ok, just a little bit.

  • tes

    Dear All,

    And PTS, here is my take

    The junta in Asmara is trying to play another gambling .

    Haha, Eritrean youth need freedom not money. Money is secondary.

    And PFDJ is just using a stupid game. he failed to collect tax and then he took the money from the people by the name of new prints.

    Oh what a stupid gambling is this?

    Doesn’t he assume that how banks circulate the money and by themselves get richer?

    You tell people to put their money on bank, you use public money to give loans to others. And the others think that their money is saved though someone else is using it.

    This is exactly what PFDJ is doing.

    He failed to pay money and then stole public money by the name of bank system. Innocent people had no choice and they submitted.

    Once they submitted PFDJ became rich and now they started to pay a payment they call a salary.

    Eritreans need Freedom, not money!


  • PTS
  • Mahmud Saleh

    Selam Almunadel Alkabeer
    You said many points, but I’m happy to tell you we have spent time on debating them, albeit with unsatisfactory results and deepening bitterness among the discussants of those issues. To my understanding both ELF and EPLF are now judged by history, they are no more active participants. They are being processed by the Analyzer Machine of History. PFDJ is on its way out. I don’t really care who brings it as long as the change is something Eritreans accept. Therefore, if your party has and is the best (I don’t know which party you belong to), I SAY, “GHEBEY XaEda TGBAE EGLKUM.” I wish you brought the change yesterday. The time is sensitive brother, and it’s better if we focus on approaches that reassures different political leaning of our people. For that reason I’m not going to respond in kind.
    My new year resolution is to emphasize what binds us. Our martyrs would want us to focus on the problems of today. We have analyzed and disected ghedli and post ghedli era. For those who are looking for fresh information, like I said to V.F., please do your own endeavors. There are documents. There are walking archives among you, in your city, in your community. Talk to them. Talk to different people with different views, and deduce your conclusions.
    As far as the veterans you mentioned and their peers who enterede Eritrea in 1991, I have nothing but respect for them. People make different decisions in similar situations. It’s natural. We don’t perceive, collect, process and interpret information the same way. Nothing to wonder about. They were going to their country. That’s bravery my friend. They wanted to be part of the process; they wanted to influence the process…most of them did leave behind what today activists cite, but perished in the process. But they are part of an era we take as a reference. Today, people cite the constitution…national assembly…free press…the mention of free elections…etc. They were part of that process that had resulted to these benchmarks. I know you don’t recognize the whole process and that is your right. But when you criticize those peope, get ready to say something if asked what did you or your party do which exceeds their contribution. Anyway, I don’t feel I have any right to criticize them since I did not pay a fraction of what they contributed.
    The bottom line is: Lets us focus on what we can do TODAY instead of regurgitating what others failed on yesterday.
    Wa Shukran.

    • Kokhob Selam

      ክቡር ሓው :-
      ኣብ መወዳእታ ናይ ግድን እዩ ነቶም ንሰማማዓሎም ነጥብታት ኣብ መዓላ ከነውዕል :: ብዓንደ ርእሱ እቲ ንስኻን ኣነን እንኣምነሉ ሃገራዊ ናጽነትን ህዝባዊ ሓርነት ከም ነጥበ መበገሲ ወሲድና ኣብ ሓባራዊ ናይ መጻኢ ቅልሳት ክንርዕም መድረኽ ይጠልበና ኣሎ ::

      እቲ ኣነ ክኸውን ኣይነበሮን ዝብሎ ጉዳያት ክመልሶ ዘይክእል ምዃነይ ኣጸቢቐ እየ ዝፈልጥ :: ታሪኽ ተሞክሮ እዩ: ተሞክሮ ጌጋ ንዘይምድጋም – ግዳ ኸ ኣ ተሞክሮ ሰሰናዮ ንምስሳን :: ኣብ ሕሉፍ ምንባር ኣይከኣልን እዩ ኣምር ግዜ “ሕጂ” ኣብ ዝብል እዩ ዝዛዘም :: ትማልን ብቅድሚ ትማልን ኣይምለሳን እየን :: ጽባሕ ውን ግዳ ትምኒት ጥራይ እያ:: እታ እንኮ ሃብትና ሕጂ ብምዃና ብኩሉ ትብዓት ክንገጥማን ክንነብራን ኣለና ብሃላይ እየ :: ንትማሊ ቅልልዕ ኣቢልካ ብዘይስክፍታ ሕጂ ምንባርን – ንጽባሕ ባይታ ምጥጣሕን እዮ መጻኢ ወሎዶና ዘድልዮ :: እዚ ሕጂ እንሪኦ ዘለና ስቅያት ሕጂ ዝተፈጥረ ዘይምዃኑን ውጽኢት ሕሉፍ ጉጉይ ኣካይዳን ምዃኑ ኣብ ምእማን ከይሓመቅና – ግን ነቶም ቃልስና ኣድላይ ከምዘይነበረን ከምዝፈሸለን ደፊሮም ዝነግሩና ‘ውን ከይተምበርከኽና ነቲ ተረፉ ዘሎ ውራይና ብዘይዕጥይምጥይ ክንዓጥቀሉ ይግባእ – እዚ እዩ ኸ ኣ ኣነን ንስኻን ዘራኽበና ዓቢ ኣዝዩ ገዚፍ ጉዳይ ::

      • Mahmud Saleh

        Ahlan kokobay
        Hanaxn MesaTn Hasab. I assure you I have no problem discussing the past in all its totality, positive and negative. What bothers me is when that “past” is used selectively and for a partisan gains. You see it happening in discussions between Eritreans among themselves and between them and Ethiopians. Otherwise, I don’t have a problem, and that’s what we were doing in the past couple of days. Such level headed and fact based discussions, I think, should be encouraged. They give first hand information to our already stressed, pressured and challenged youth , and enhance commonality. So, thank you for understanding my point.

  • tes

    Dear Readers,

    For attention and exposition

    PFDJ has only managed to collect 1500 signatures out of expected 10,000 (initailly supposed 50,000) in a campaign he launched to counter act against the report of CoiE.

    [COiE is a United Nation Human rights task force commisioned to investigate the crimes done and is going by PFDJ junta.]

    Witnessing a deadline where the COiE will start his program sooner, PFDJ started another tactic of collecting signatures through his embassies.

    thanks to the justice seeking activists PFDJ campaign is failing terribly.

    Signing in support of this petition is committing crimes against humanity and every Eritrean should reject and expose their campaign fully.

    Lets work for the success of COiE mission

    It is time to bring PFDJ criminal gangs in the International Court.


  • Kokhob Selam

    ክቡር ኣሕመድ ካብ ልቢ ዝፈልፈለ ሰላምታ ::

    ግርም ዓንቀጽ ! የቀንየልና :: መቸም ሞትን ማእሰርትን ዕጫኹም እዩ ከምዝበለና ነዚ ጽዋ ክንቀበሎ እንከለና ዳርጋ ባህታ ዝስመዓና ብዙሓት ኢና:: በቃ ጀግና ይእሰር ይቅተል – ህዝቢ ተስቆርቅር ትሓዝን ግዳ ንምርሳዕ ምኽንያት ትፈጥር :- እቲ ምኽንያት ኣዝዩ ቅቡል ክኸውን ልዕሊ ዝጠፍኡ ክምዘን ኣለዎ እሞ እዋእ “ሃገር ምእንቲ ሃገር ! ምእንቲ ልዕላውነት -ምእንቲ ናጽነት ” በቃ ጀግና በጊዕ ብርኾት ካን ኮይንዎ ጠላዕ!

    ንምዃኑ ሓደ ሰብ ናይ ዝጠፈኣሉ መገዲ ካልእ ዝጠፍእ ሲ ግርህነት ድዩ ዕሽነት ? ኣነ ኮኾብ ሲ እቲ መራሕየይ – ብጻየይ ዘይጠቅሙ ደቂ ኮማሮ ክቀትሉዎ እንከለውስ ደጊመ ክቅተለሎም ይግበኣኒ ድዩ ? እቲ ንጹህ እኮ ሺሕ ቀተልቲ ሰባት ብሚዛን ተመዚኖም ዘየርክብዎ ክብሪ ኣለዎ: እሞ ከመይ ድኣ ሓደ ንጽህ ሰብ ኣብ ትሕቲ ገበነኛታት ክነብር ሕሉንኡ የፍቅደሉ ? ዳሕራይ ከ ‘ባ ሃገርነት ንህልውና ዶ ኣይኮነን ሰብ ትቃለሰሉ ? ኣብ ውሽጥኻ ንህልውናኻ ዝፈታተን መንሽሮ ሒዝካ ዶ ብሸለልትነት ካልእ ውራይካ ዓጢጡካ ኣብ ካልእ ስራሕ ትዋፈር ኢኻ ?

    ከም ቁስልኻ ወሰንወሰና ክትሓካ እንከላ ባህ ዝብለካ -እዚ ቁስሊ እናሓኸኽና ክነብረ ኣየምሕረልናን እዩ :: እዚ ስርዓት ቅድሚ ናጽነት ከልግስ ዝነበሮ ድሑርን ጸረ ሰላምን ስርዓት እዩ ::ሕጂ ውን ኢደይ ኢልካ ኢልና ዕምሩ ከነሕጽሮ ይግባእ – እዚ እንተዘይተገይሩ ህልውናና ከም ሃገር ውን ከብቅዕ ምዃኑ ክንፈልጥ ኣለና

    ህግደፍ ክትሓቅቅ እያ !

    • Ahmed Raji

      ዝኸበርካ ኮኾብ:
      ይቐንየለይ ነቲ ለባምን ክውንነታውን ትዕዝብትኻ።
      እታ እንኮ ኣማራጺት ንሳ እያ። ኢደይ ኢድካ ኢልና ዕምሩ ነሕጽሮ ነዚ ደመኛ ስርዓት!

  • Mohammed Ahmed

    Ahlan Ahmed –

    Well put, and as always, very informative.

    A holocaust survivor was once asked looking back over the years – what would be his single most achievement – one that not only makes him feel proud but also one that gives him fulfilment and a sense of purpose, given his ordeal, that is. For those who knew the man up close, there were many things he could have cited – his remarkable multi-million dollar business success, for example topping the list. That in itself was an incredible achievement for an
    orphaned and broken young man who arrived in the New World with nothing more than pocket money.

    But his answer was quick and straight from the heart. “The stories” he said emphatically, “telling the stories of some of those who never got a chance to tell theirs – it means the whole world to me”.

    Our versions of the Nazis are no less brutal, if not even worse. Putting names and faces on their numerous victims and telling their stories is the least that we can all do. I hope what you have initiated here will create a steady stream of first hand accounts which could be compiled into a book of sorts – a book which tells the stories of all those who never got a chance to tell theirs.

    Many thanks for your efforts.

    Mohammed Ahmed

    • Ahmed Raji

      Marhaba Mohammed,
      What an apt tale that of the holocaust survivor! To victims of atrocities, to be forgotten is to be victimized again. And to those of us who couldn’t prevent the first victimization, to forget is unforgivable.

  • V.F.

    Hi Ahmed Raji, thank you for sharing these stories. When all said and done, it is good to see that we do have survivors who were part of the system and who tried to help it navigate the right way and escaped imprisonment or extrajudicial killing narrowly. I was reading ETA HIBIETI SELFI a little while ago and he narrates similar stories of brave individuals like you did. But IA has been busy exterminating his biggest threats while those individuals were busy working for free for the Eritrean people. Every single day, I am getting more and more convinced that IA is squarely responsible for everything. But that doesn’t mean only him needs to go, but many others need to be out of the way for real change in Eritrea. There are so many bad apples because of him but just because he made them spoiled and that he is responsible doesn’t mean they are salvageable. In any case, it really does give me hope to learn that there are and there were so many individuals within the system who faced IA and PFDJ head-on and it is those sacrifices that have exposed the system to its naked state now. So the dynamics for change has began, actually I would say it did at the dawn of independence with Biteweded Abraha.

    • Mahmud Saleh

      Dear V.F.
      Please keep your independent endeavor. The point a lot of people have been trying to make is the same one you have made. Eritreans are literally robbed. At any juncture of our existence, there were individuals, groups of individuals who tried to do the right thing. You will find heroes who challenged abuses in ELF, EPLF, all the way to independence. The constitution and the direction to which the country was heading after independence were the results of such push-pull interactions. As you have seen it, Biteweded case took place in 1991; many were sent to prison after him simply because they opposed some of the power excesses and looming dictatorial tendencies. G-15, the brave journalists, and elders who were shipped to jail; the students who were sent to Wi’a, the brave Johova, Muslim teachers, and other citizens were all part of this trend. Many brave men and women are sent to the unknown because they suggested better ways of running the nation. They include artists, writers, teachers veteran tegadelti, and many others. We are all robbed. You have here an author (Ahmed Raji) who presented valuable documents when he was still inside the country. I do thank him again for writing the article.
      Anyway, my point is this: Keep researching, be optimistic, because nations are saved and are built by hopeful people. There are brave people who are challenging the system. I hope people realize that it’s important to read and listen to what Eritreans consider vital and orientate our efforts that way. When the efforts of those heroes who live inside the country find a matching with the efforts of the Diaspora, we will have a synergy. Otherwise, our efforts and energy will have no positive pattern or direction.

    • tes

      Dear V.F.,

      haven’t you ever heard about Halewa Sewra? Revolutionary guard?

      And did you forget that there are more than 10,000 political prisoners? How can you simply forget even about these people who are living under the dungeons of PFDJ?

      The only problem we have is, “who will tell about these stories?” We need people who write on what happened to Eritreans. Thanks to Ahmde Raji he is one of the writers who write about these stories.


      • V.F.

        Hi tes, I don’t know how you deduced that I ‘simply forgot about the more than 10,000 political prisoners.’ The whole Eritrea is a prison, an open-ended prison (no roof). I said this in a previous post. There are thousands and thousands of untold stories of horror. This is why the PFDJ land has never panicked like they are now because of COIEritrea. I get text messages from PFJD stooges on a mass text message to participate in a petition to refute the findings of COI and help create doubt. This is the first time I have seen PFDJ in panic mode publicly. They are afraid the time they will have to answer some hard questions is very near.

  • Ahmed Raji

    Ahlan Adarob,
    Thank you for the comment. Indeed Hemrareeb to the brave souls. Yes, let’s hope for some rainbow in 2016 (if the pen abides), and a lot of sunlight

  • Mahmud Saleh

    Dear Awatistas
    Happy Christmas.
    ርሑስ በዓል ልደት
    መልካም የልደት በዓል
    Peace, love, harmony.

  • Ahmed Raji

    Dear Ismail,
    Thank you for sharing your first hand recollections about Mohammed. His involvement in the ELF Cadre school explains his brilliant analytic and debating skills (in addition to his natural intelligence), which made him a target of the reviled PFDJ henchmen. Indeed, there are many untold stories. Even I have heard of many more such stories, but I didn’t include them in my piece for lack of details. But, I am sure, more people will come forward and give their own testimonies.

  • Semere Andom

    Dear All:
    Brother Ahmed Raji has written a very important article. In this article he paid tribute to his fried Mohammed Dawoud and the many nameless gutsy men and women who stood to the intimidations of PFDJ by citing examples from firsthand experience.
    We are sometimes blinded by the serenaded and sung heroes whose contributions were told, retold, some of them even stretched, “these are the people who brought us our independence…” comes to mind when Zemede Temesghen pointe to a few war leaders. The “We” here is not the royal we, it is the we as in Eritreans.
    But day in and day out in the far flung deserts and mountains Eritreans are paying with their lives as they challenge authority with courage and I am sure they will be the themes of books and movies in the future. Inspiring generation of people. It is just human nature that some will rise amid the gloom and doom and darkness of cruelty. The cruelty will be also depicted in movies and books, and they will also inspire, but the inspiration is so we do not repeat it, so we no one goes through it again and they will also disgust us to keep us on our toes.
    The unsung heroes will include both genders and all ethnicity in the same way the cruelty is been committed by both genders and from all ethnicity.
    The stories of courage and cowardice will be told to make us laugh and weep as we learn that we are capable of both good and evil, both are within us to unleash, but it becomes our choice.
    The young man who is shot as he defended “gual gezautu” from been taken advantage by the unscrupulous PFDJ tool. The man who always made sure the women are taken care in everything and who checks on them as they slept on the ground. The list goes on and on
    The Ella-Ero and many others prisons will be kept as museums and depicted in movies and documentaries so the wailing and beating that went inside them would not be forgotten. But they will not be administered by criminals like they are now, they will be under the heritage preservation department, yes, criminality, rape and torture will be part of our heritage, not a heritage we would be proud of, but our heritage nonetheless and we have to own it.
    PFDJ’s innumerable prisons Just like their counters part of Alcatraz prison will shock people as generations of Eritreans will be disgusted when they take their kids to link them to history, lets they take for granted the freedoms handed to them.
    Our society like any society has its sociopaths, some fully formed and some buddying as we speak. We have our criminals, some inborn and some prevailing situation will create them. And from time to time the sociopaths and criminals will emerge and we should be in the lookout to nip them in bud, purging them in their infancy. These kinds of people will always be among us, they will be our neighbors, our colleagues and friends, the key is who calls the shots in the country and how deeply are the laws and freedoms and the tapestry of checks and balances that will auto-alert us about the tell-tell signs of these unsavory human beings.
    We are not as people immune to evil, the current monsters are after all created from us by us.

  • Mahmud Saleh

    Selam Ahmed
    Thank you for writing this article. Good reading. Societies do have unsung heroes. We drive through tunnels they died in building, we drive through and live in cities they built, we mesmerize by the architecture they leave, by the priceless arts and literature they live bind. Every May 24, we must remember there are tens of thousands who perished in making that date happen. And then we must ask. We must ask if what we witness holds true to their expectation; what our people are experiencing matches the price they paid. We must ask ourselves if current realities of our nation would have been the goal they set as they died, or the result they imagined as they paid the ultimate price…we need to ask. Yes, we need to be indignant at the regime, we need to be mad because they were and are our brothers and sisters; they were and are the brightest and most dedicated children of Eritrea. Stories such as this get us closer to the spirits of those brave men and women who stood against injustice; they make us reconnect with them…
    Your article reminds me of many similar stories, some are known and are documented, others are not. But they left permanent marks in our consciousness and conscience they itch us every now and then, they give us energy…a purpose to speak of justice. Their memories take the notion of fighting for justice out of abstract construction and make it real and present…right there in the form of cases of people we laughed, mourned, played and shared the errands of life.
    For today I want to share two stories of simple people who stood up against mistreatments and abuses.
    In early 80s, a lanky, humorous, and really sweet tegadalay, a well respected guy, was accused of conspiring the leadership of the front. As it was the tradition of those days, a meeting was called, and details of his crimes was read. He was asked to say something. He stood up and looked up at the man who read the crimes they said this man committed. I could see the veins of his face got so tight, he spit his chewing tobacco, cleared his throat. And then, he replied:
    ” Yes, I wanted change. I did not want to the leader of the organization, but I wanted the organization changed, but most of what you read is incorrect.”
    The co-chairman asked him to elaborate on how he intended the change to happen, and asked, ” Did not you say ‘I would better than Romadan?”
    The tegadalay replied: “I did not say I would be better than Romadan, but I said I would have done a better job than the one the leadership is doing.”
    The co-chairman continued, ” How so?”
    Tegadalay: ” Why not me? why not you? Why not any of these comrades? I know you are a bright man. As far as my credentials are concerned, you know I an honor student and was about to complete my nuclear engineering studies. Why do you think I could not do a better job?”
    The meeting plunged into the abzi’a, Hto aleni, tewesaKi, and it lasted until the wee hour. The guy was taken to the security department (aka Halewa Sewra). He was lucky, though. He was released, I believe within a year. I think his humorous behavior and known patterns of speaking up helped him.
    The next story is about a young man, a known artist who grew up in the field. He was a student in the Revolution School, a guy who spoke openly, and had his part in running into the law of that time. This was though after independence, in Kagnew Station. One morning the security of the camp (that’s where most tegadelty who were stationed in Asmara were living) found cartoons, handwritten manifestos…spread out in the camp. After an investigation, he was arrested and taken to the jail. The content of the pamphlets were:
    – depictions of tegadelay as a used/disposable stuff
    -criticism of leaders
    -calling on people that the signs of dictatorship were everywhere to be seen…
    One cartoon shows a man apparently inviting people to a banquet. He askes “How is the food?”
    All say, “delicious.” That was a cartoon of the president and his cabinet, or his attempt to depict the “yes men” in action.
    In another cartoon, he shows a man praising Mr. IA. Another person tells the man praising the president: While you try to please a Satan, your action is irritating God/ making God unhappy(ንሸይጣን ክተሕጉስ ክትብል ንእዝጋብሄር ተቐይም ኣለኻ)። He did not deny the charges and actually challenged the interrogators by bringing backing incident. I spent some years in prison. His name was Haile Berhane. I heard he passed away recently (RIP).

    • Amanuel

      Hi MS
      Thanks for sharing the stories. The first tegadaly in your story is very lucky. By the standard of EPLF questioning the competence of the higher leadership is big crime. First he got chance to explain himself in a meeting where his comrades were present. As you know in EPLF members who has been suspected of such incidents would be taken by night and their comrades would be told he or she is gone for special assignment and there will be no more questions. Second he has got released with in a year. Knowing that he nearly completed his nuclear engineering studies makes him as lucky as some one wining Mega millions jackpot.
      I guess you are taking about a period before 1987 when the front was relatively less tolerant to such criticism. I got in trouble just few months before independence for lesser issue. A middle cadre was spreading lies exaggerating the performance of IA in a battle where even he was not there. I challenged him as I knew exactly where IA was during that battle. Because I saw IA 100 miles away from the battle. He was embaressed

      • Mahmud Saleh

        Selam Aman and tes
        Thanks both. What’s being discussed here is stories of individuals, and in some cases groups, who showed courage in the face of imminent danger. When we speak about general experience or links of events there is much to be said. But in this small space and when independent stories are told, one needs to say what comes to mind within the given space and as accurate as memory allows. That’s what I did. can’t make up or falsify stories order to satisfy some gullible readers. I’m writing publicly and people who happen to remember those events are still alive. Actually, the first person is still alive, that’s why I didn’t mention his name. I use my real name, so I don’t have the luxury to spice up things that some may enjoy. Dear tes, I’m not a political guy and I will never veer from a subject in order to please people, never.
        Dear Aman: The first story happened in 1983, at the end of the seventh offensive (salahta warar). Similar things happened many time. The first one I experienced was in 1976, meetings that lasted for more than three days. I was very young and I missed most of the arguments sleeping. At the end about five people were sent to Halawa sewra. Most of the leadership members attended was in the central health center of the organization and Fesehaye W/Gebriel was chairing it.That was right before the elections of the first organizational congress. They were accused of being in the Yemin movement. There was many such incidents in the units I happened to be working in. There were such incidents in ide serHat, central hospital. …To my knowledge the format was the same. You do a public prosecutions and then after days you pick up those you are after. What happened in1980 in the camp of the war wounded tegadelti is another example where memhr tesfu and his comrades stood their ground. They were saved by Sudanese Police When they shouted for help while on their way to Halawa sewra. I hope tesfu reads this because he was in many public prosecutions. At any rate, there were characters known in the organization who spoke their heart out. Most of the they were ignored as nothing but people who were predisposed of loud talk. Jemal is another example. He was in the artillery and mechanized unit (74). Both jamal and lingo spoke about the same complaints and about the same strength and bitterness. Lingo went to prison but Jamal didn’t. Why? Well, Jamal was known for speaking up loudly, he was known to the organization and to the leadership. While Lingo, in addition to being a prominent cadre and artists, he broke the code of the secret party: not talking bad about the organization in a public arena.
        I hope I put my original comment within its context. Please less politics and more truthful accounts.

        • Amanuel

          Hi MS
          I agree if the critics are group of people or laud and popular individuals the persecution starts in public and moves on to halewa sewra. However if the critic was an individuals and happened to be educated and not member the party. The persecution starts at the party members meeting and most of the time ends up taken away secretly. I guessed that the first tegadalay

          • Mahmud Saleh

            Ahlan Amanuel
            Yes, I understand. Another point is the fact that in most cases it was arbitrary.There was no uniformly. It depended on the maturity and integrity of the leader who is handling the matter.

        • tes

          Dear Mahmud Saleh,

          Now you have a point. You wrote,

          “…he broke the code of the secret party: not talking bad about the organization in a public arena.”

          Even today this system is working under the PFDJ rule.

          Not an ordinary person is accused of speaking/challenging or criticizing the PFDJ junta rather a supposed trusted and thereby on position of sensitive responsibility. I was discussing with a friend on this issue. And while I was telling that it is some how normal to challenge the front on public meetings, he couldn’t believe me. I thought that anyone who spoke any negative thing (better against) is taken and got imprisoned.

          Oh NO. One can challenge PFDJ junta openly even in public meetings. But there is a difference and here is the reason.

          1. Provocateurs: There is provocation by prominent cadre members who try to know or expose the feelings of the people. And those who can easily be provoked are divided in to four again.

          a. The expected
          b. the honest and no political threats
          c. The “to be watched”

          2. Civil but with bitter experiences and observations: Deep feelings which is ignited after several bitter experiences. These are always in danger and time is their saver. if they are consciousness enough and want to run away they have time to do so. However some do it based on political principle and stay on ground (an example is from the article).

          3. New comers: usually young people and with enormous potential. These are somehow tolerated in several meetings. Even they can be selected to join the Cadre School as future potential good messiahs. If they are power hungry, they can even rise to high ranks and hold positions, be it in the NUEW, NUEYS, PFDJ offices etc. However if they are suspected of being are very serious and not willing to take any position, then they are under close surveillance. Spying over kind of people can go even for years. And one day they simply vanish.

          4. Members: The listed and already under the system members. These people should put a glue on their mouth and sometimes close their eyes and block their ears. The day is waited until they speak.

          Thank you for bringing this angle


          • Mahmud Saleh

            Selam Tes
            I agree with your observation. A year or so, I brought similar point, I don’t remember the thread. I said something to the effect of ” the regime focuses on individual who could influence; patterns of chit-chats; do they lead to organizing clandestinely or it’s about chatters who want to let some hot steam off…” I think it was when we were debating the nature of the regime. Therefore, your observation is correct. In my case, I was not up to analyzing the nature of the political system of that time, and underlying factors that kept up that system, which goes back to studying the history of ghedli and the backgrounds and contributions of its architects (+/-).
            I just want picked up a couple of stories that rushed into my mind. The conversation, I hope everyone understands, was not meant to be understood to be verbatim. I don’t have either recorded or written in front of me. I could only be as truthful to my recollection as possible.
            Again, thanks for putting it within a frame of reference.

    • tes

      Dear Mahmud Saleh,

      I read your post patient and tried to learn a gist out of it. But all I found is a counter argument with what has been written by Ahmed Raji. Though what you brought here could be an evidence of silent resistance within the EPLF regime, how they ended up regretfully weakens the potential they had as an honest and courageous heroes.

      From your post what I learned is that EPLF was tolerant and forgives if they as far as they obey the norms. Indeed criticism within the EPLF members was acceptable to a degree that it didn’t challenge the political thinking of the bureau. What you brought as an example (the nuclear engineer) is one typical example.

      He [the first one] was very weak. His weakness was clearly visible in the way he responded when he was asked to clarify on what he meant for what he criticized. He stoop himself and said, “just like” and he went on further praising his officer. As you wrote,

      “” Why not me? why not you? Why not any of these comrades? I know you are a bright man. As far as my credentials are concerned, you know I an honor student and was about to complete my nuclear engineering studies. Why do you think I could not do a better job?””

      The person in question was not criticizing the leadership in their political doings but on their administrative skills. And this is not a threat to the EPLF leadership. In fact the common and deceptive response was, “Kab gegana temahirna alena” – We have learnt from our mistakes or “Temekiro yihatsrena eyu” – we are in shortage of experiences.

      The second example was during honeymoon period, when every tegadalay was almost free of open but non significant criticism. The stadium incidence (Mesfin Hagos led protest) was the sum total of all.

      Dear Mahmud, in general what you brought here is just trying to tell us there was criticism and self criticism within the EPLF members. You didn’t brought a serious political arguments that tried to challenge the leadership and the then the one who challenged stood on his idea till death.

      Therefore I found your post irrelevant to the topic and very insignificant in the testimony of crimes done by EPLF to individuals within like.

      Ahmed Raji’s article goes into the political arguments and the risks faced to those who stood on their line of thinking.

      Wo Mahmuday, politics and administration are too different. And as a veteran of EPLF I can not expect you to challenge the political line of EPLF but at least you can bring dozens of testimony if you were consciousness enough on what was going within.


      • Semere Andom

        Hi Tes;
        Add to that this: during Ghedli and now, you can critic a drama, a movie and any work of art or how the “emdad supply” was inefficient, how the garage is not fixing tracks on time, or how we Ghedli was abusing the mountains, how comrade so and so did not treat the gun with respect, but to the core question of political direction, of humane treatment of those innocent Eritrean accused of spying, you do so at your own risk and no one survives that, no one.

        The fact that Bitweded is in prison for 25 years and the G-15 are in prison for 15 years is good example and by the time PFDJ is removed, all members of G-15 in prison will be dead. Sooner or later they will get you and that is what killed M. Dawoud.

        You remember when the law student asked IA in a meeting about the special court, IA ridiculed him. The student later told friends and colleagues that he was being followed and he was scared and one day he was killed.
        The criticism and self-criticism focused on so and so drank water from the “burasho” while everyone was thirsty and mostly were trivial and designed to control and dull the brains of tegadalai on political discourse. No one criticized so and so disappeared, well yes many did but they faced same fate. The criticism was one tool of control and the revolution could have done better without it, but without it the thugs would not have control. It was a controlling mechanism and not nurturing as falsely immortalized in the political books of EPLF that criticism and self-criticism is the daily bread of a freedom fighter. It was a daily poison for the tegadalai.
        That is why most resistance against PFDJ never succeed, many still believe that it is genuine and voice their grievances and they get crashed. In every meeting before and now, they tell you to ask questions, the gullible people ask and they get in trouble, that is what happened to Mussa Haj of Keren for example, he was told to ask so he asked about those who disappeared from keren and he faced their fate.

        • tes

          Dear Semere Andom,

          Add to to yours this:

          I laugh when I listen justice seekers repeating, “ኣይነቓሕናን፡ ክንነቅሕ ኣለና መጀመርታ።” [we are not conscious, we need to be conscious first] and spend hours and hours on paltalk being lectured by x-tegadelti [x-freedom fighters] while these freedom fighters use the same methodology used by EPLF and now PFDJ.

          Do you have something to say on “ንቕሓት” – consciousness?


    • Ahmed Raji

      Selamat Mahmud,
      Thank you for sharing these stories

  • Semere Andom

    Hi Ahmed:

    Nice read. Impeccable memory

    Yes, Mohammed Dawoud was gutsy. I first met him when I was writing my GCE in 988 and we became good friends. He told me he studied business admin in Iraq and he had lots of memorable stories about Algeria and Iraq.

    But back to his fearless nature, you captured it perfectly. In 1989 we both attended the first Youth congress in the “resort” village of Hishkib, the congress was delayed for 4 weeks because someone was taking his sweet time to bring the delegate and Mohammed raised hell because to him, it was illegal to pass the date, the leadership was illegal because its mandate has expired and when Shengeb, Biniam and others called us into a meeting, he walked away on them. We were shocked and he had a word for those who did not walk. We were terrified, because the security people were there interrogating our friends because they said this thing or that thing in Sudan. But the congress was held and I think he was elected to its central committee. I think he joined in very early 1990 and not 1989.

    His ideas in debates were also unique, he was not a follower and he did not do it please or appease. He was short, the shirt was always tucked and pressed well, and the color was “lebenni”

    • Ahmed Raji

      Selamat Semere,

      Yes, I’ve heard about that incident at the Youth congress. He was a serious, no-nonsense guy all along, and very independent in his thinking. Because of that, as well as his honesty and integrity, he commanded the respect of those around him. He was soft spoken, yet he had a strong presence, much larger than his slight figure. These qualities might lead the reader (or those who didn’t know him well enough) to think he was all seriousness and no sense of humor. But, nothing could be further from the truth. Oh, yes, he knew how to tell a good joke.

  • saay7

    Selamat Ahmed:

    Its always great to read your piece: they are always substantial and detail-oriented.

    An awatista used to say that when the reign of the dictatorship is over, we will amazed by the silent heroes who stood up to it and were made to perish. The enablers of the dictatorship will be forgotten, and it is the silent heroes that will continue to inspire future generations of Eritreans.

    But for that to happen the chroniclers must tell their story. We already have, as we should, chronicles of the abusers and the abused. We all need to do more to tell the stories of the silent heroes.

    Thanks again.


    • Ahmed Raji

      Hi Saleh.
      Thank you. It was writings like yours that inspired me and triggered my decision to begin writing back in 2003. As you said, there are countless stories like the ones cited above waiting to be told

  • tes

    Dear Ahmde Raji,

    Welcome back again to grace us with your articles. 2016 will be a blessing year and wishing to see more former writers.

    Your article goes deeper and gives first hand testimony of the systematic crimes done over Eritreans. I love reading it.

    An enforcer to the COiE Report.

    With regards


    • Ahmed Raji

      Merhaba Tes.
      Thank you for the generous words. I join you in your optimism as we start the new year.