Act of Heroism

On September 1, 1961, Eritreans commenced their “armed” struggle for independence.  It is a symbolic date.  In reality, Eritrean struggle [non-armed] for independence began in earnest in the 40s and 50s.   The heroic acts of Ato Omar Mohamed Qadi, Ato Omar Akito, Sheik Abdel Qader Kebire, Ato Woldeab Woldemariam, and Sheik Ibrahim Sultan are carved into emba metera of Eritrean history.  Who can forget the student and labor union rallies in the 1950s.

Similarly, we are carving September 18th 2001 into Eritrean history NOT as a dark day but rather as the day G-15 and many other heroic Eritreans lit the torch of freedom and our aspiration for viable and democratic Eritrea.   September 18th, 2001 is only a symbolic date.  In reality, even before 2001, many Eritreans had sacrificed themselves for freedom and justice in Eritrea. 

On May 24th, 1991, most of us thought that Eritrean independence meant two-for-one deal – independence and democratic Eritrea.  We forgot history – our own and others.  The history of man tells us that democracy is never handed down on silver platter.  Creating and maintaining democratic Eritrea is like rowing a boat upstream.  When one stops rowing, one is swept backwards. 

Eritrea will never be democratic if we are waiting for some white knight to slay our tormentor and then to keep us safe in his bosom.  When we fail to act, thieves and robbers will clean us out in broad daylight, rapists will take advantage of our women, and dictators will hang us on their whims.       

On September 18th 2001, PFDJ arrested many Eritreans who called for ‘political reform’.  Unable to learn from history, PFDJ reckoned that arresting ‘reformers’ would pacify any call for reform.  Instead PFDJ chose to ignore the observed laws of history, thus falling into an abyss and, inadvertently and in some twisted way, putting Eritrea on an irreversible course to creating a democratic Eritrea.  This is man’s history – its inability to learn from the past.

As September 18th, 2001 approached, it was an open secret that PIA was waiting for opportune time to suffocate the ‘reform movement’.   Mins. Petros, Berakhi and others had traveled abroad and returned to Eritrea knowing fully that their days were numbered.  But these men loved their country – our country – too much to be concerned about themselves and their families.   They knew PFDJ’s definition of justice, or rather injustice, but they didn’t flinch.  Deep down, these heroes can’t forget many of their colleagues who during the struggle for Eritrean independence laid down their lives for freedom – not just for a flag or for independence – but for true freedom and justice.  For these heroes, their acts of self-sacrifice were simply a way of honoring their fallen brothers and sisters.  Many of these brave men could have sold their souls to their PFDJ leader and lived a tormented life – a false freedom – like their coward PFDJ officials.

Some of the current PFDJ officials even advocated for change and then pulled back, thus betraying not only their colleagues but their own supposed deep felt beliefs.   Some of these weak stomachs include Gen. Sebhat Ephrem, Mins. Fozia Hashem and Tesfai Gebreselase (who the latter two were members of Min. Sheriffo’s committee on multiparty).  When PFDJ ordered its officials to garner support for its mob justice, Min. Askalu Menkarios, Ato Abdela Jaber and many other officials were sent all over Eritrea to accuse the ‘reformers’ as traitors.  Unable to even understand its own people, PFDJ expected the Eritrean people to give PFDJ a blank check of endorsement to carry out mob justice against ‘reformers’.  True to history of Eritreans, in one voice, Eritreans told PFDJ officials that they can not pass any judgment against ‘reformers’ until they hear the reformers’ side of the story.  It is in our history, it is in our tradition, and it is in our saying that the accused has the right to defend himself against charges.  PFDJ’s law of the jungle has never been done, or even heard, in our proud history.

When its public campaign failed, PFDJ issued another statement claiming to be the resolution of Eritrea’s national assembly.  The resolution stated that the illusionary national assembly had approved to publicize the reformers’ crimes and their non-existent evidences to the public within the following few weeks.  Five years later, PFDJ has not even been able to publicize its own trumped up evidence.

Instead, PFDJ has pursued an old politics to establish guilt, ‘lies told often enough become the truth’.  Ato Alamin Saed, Ato Yemane Gebreab, and some other PFDJ officials have taken to accusing the ‘reformers’ as traitors, and that if G-15 were brought to justice that the ‘reformers’ would be executed.  In their desperate politics, they tell us that PFDJ is subverting the course of justice to save the lives of the so-called ‘traitors’.

Most of us can’t vouch for the innocence of the accused.  However, our basic belief is that ‘one is innocent until proven guilty.’  This is our unshakeable belief.  But those who subvert and violate basic human rights are themselves traitors above all else.  The accused should have been brought to court of justice within 48 hours or at the latest 28 days with the consent of a court of justice.   The reformers had challenged their antagonists to bring their cases to court of justice.  Regardless of whether any of the accused is found guilty of some trumped up charges, PFDJ officials remain the biggest threat to basic human rights in Eritrea and the viability of Eritrean statehood.    

The G-15 might be viewed as controversial figures.  Instead of asking Mr. Alamin why PFDJ hasn’t brought the G-15 to trial because PFDJ officials will always harp on treason and betrayal, our questions should be posed indirectly, 

  • Why Ato Hassan Keckia, Ato Bitweded Abraha, and others were arrested, then released, and then re-arrested within short period of time without once being brought to court of justice.  Is “the compassionate” Mr. Alamin saving these heroes from the guillotine, chopping bloc, or the ropes if they were brought to trial?
  • Why are Mrs. Aster Yohannes, Mrs. Senait Debesay and many others arrested and incarcerated without due process of law?  Is the “compassionate” Mr. Yemane Gebrab saving these heroic mothers from the guillotine, chopping bloc, or the ropes if they were brought to trial?  Is being loving mother crime in PFDJ’s Eritrea punishable by death?
  • Why are Yusuf Ali, Matewos Habteab, Joshua and many other journalists in prison?  Is the compassionate Mr. Abdella Jaber saving these heroes from capital punishment for expressing their ideas and views?
  • Why are so many followers of many faiths in jail without due process of law?  Is it punishable by death in to worship Allah in PFDJ’s Eritrea, and is that why they haven’t been brought to trial?


So tell us, Mr. Abdela, Mr. Alamin and Mr. Yemane, what is PFDJ’s definition of crimes punishable by death.  Is the subversion of basic human rights and crimes against humanity defined as crimes punishable by death in PFDJ’s Eritrea, or are these subversions badges of honor to join PFDJ?  We are asking Mr. Zemhret if he fought for Eritrean independence and freedom only to tell us that justice must be subverted – that the innocents should be imprisoned, that the young must drown in high seas, and that Eritreans must live in fear.   

G15, journalists, elderly men who tried to mediate, and other prisoners of conscious, showed us on Sept. 18th why Eritrea finally won its independence after 30 years of struggle.  At the same time, hearing and seeing PFDJ officials, we know why it took 30 years to win independence.  The G-15 showed us that ‘self-sacrifice’ and ‘deep conviction’ won Eritrean independence.  PFDJ officials continue to show us ‘self-interest’, ‘betrayal of comrades’ and ‘lies’ delayed our independence.

The thousands of Eritrean heroes who stood up for freedom and democracy are the seeds of our future.  These are men and women who are buried in Eritrean soil.  We can’t see them, but they are there.  We only need to water the seeds to see them flourish.  Many in the opposition are watering these seeds, but it needs more water.  It is time we ask ourselves if we are doing our parts to water these seeds of freedom and democracy, or do we expect others to water it for us?

“Betri Haqi Tiqetin Ember Aytsibern”

For list of prisoners,   

On related thought:

The PFDJ regime has a tight noose around its neck, only getting ever tighter by the day.  It becomes critical that those in the opposition camp, and esp. those in leadership, to act like leaders of a nation rather than leaders of their narrow political base/parties.  What does it mean to act like leaders of a nation?  The question is then, what do national leaders do or are expected to do?  Among other things, they must address the most immediate issues. 

The opposition leaders must incorporate the following issues into their public speeches [shouldn’t be assumed that these are obvious, but must be vigorously addressed], that

1.      Post-PFDJ government won’t engage in any witch-hunt, and that the core principle of post-PFDJ is the rule-of-law and due process of law.  In addition, these leaders must pledge that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, and thus won’t use PFDJ debilitated justice system to subvert the course of justice.  “Truth and Reconciliation” committee should be set up to quickly address a floodgate of incriminations and recriminations that will surely follow the collapse of the PFDJ regime.  This is probably the single most challenging issue for the first couple years of post-PFDJ Eritrea.  How we deal issue will determine if our journey towards building democratic Eritrea will be bumpy or smooth.  Strong leadership is needed to navigate through this challenging period.  Hesitant leadership will sink the whole country.

2.      Post-PFDJ government will consider addressing pension issues for all tegadelties and other civil servants as priority.

3.      Status quo on all government housing for 5-years, including for those accused of crimes [but not yet sentenced by competent court] relating to PFDJ brutal governance.

4.      Demobilization of reserve army through the following phases.  Immediate demobilization for those who wish to be discharged without any assistance.  Second phase demobilization for those Warsai-Yekealo heroes who need assistance after demobilization.  Regardless, full demobilization to be completed within 4 years.  New servicemen will only serve 18-months.

5.      Rescind compulsory national service for women, i.e. women can join on voluntary basis only. 

6.      Compensation to Warsai-Yekealo for their forced labor.  For those who don’t know how important this issue is to Warsai-Yikealo, put your fingers on their pulses. 

7.      Immediate disengagement from internal politics of our neighboring countries, and to progressively build positive relationship with Ethiopia once it rescinds its ‘Declaration of War’ against Eritrea.

8.      Opposition leaders should campaign on implementation of the 1997 Constitution as a starting point.  It is amendable.  Not implementing it immediately will put Eritrea on a very slippery road.  We will know our rights and freedoms immediately.  Beyond that, leaders must openly and clearly state that Eritreans are vested with inalienable rights to engage in activities that are not specifically prohibited by law and don’t infringe on other people’s rights and freedoms.  If some opposition leaders have alternative views on constitution, they should give us definite peek into their views.  In addition, they should give us definite timetable when they intend to have an alternative constitution implemented.  For us average Eritreans, we like certainty.   I want to know that my inalienable rights as guaranteed in the “implemented” Constitution will be my legal protection against those aspiring political leaders [currently in opposition] who send veiled threats against my right to give out awards whenever and to whomever I want to.  I would have expected these “democratic” leaders to defend my rights.   

9.      Although EDA has a timetable for transitional government, there should be a personal pledge to the public that opposition leaders will strive to hold national elections within 2 years from the fall of PFDJ regime.  It is one thing to read it in a Charter, but it has significantly more weight when these leaders tell us emphatically in their own words during public gatherings, interview over internet or other media. 

10.  Personally-delivered and public pledges that those over the age of [say] 55-year old who form the transitional government will resign within two years from the fall of the PFDJ regime, regardless of whether national elections are held or not.  An alternative mechanism should be put in place to elect replacements.  Min. Petros Solomon pledged that, why can’t the others?  No definite deadline is a sure way to prolong processes.  This doesn’t mean that they will be forced into retirement, but can become heads of committees or other specific functions that can utilize their direct skills and experiences.

11.  Immediate dismantling of military businesses and the dismantling of PFDJ businesses within three years – to ensure that employees aren’t unduly laid off.  Best efforts should be made to find employment for those affected.

12.  The establishment of Farmers’ Cooperatives within two years in order to address the dire situation in the countryside.  This will partially deal with the demobilization efforts. 

13.  Press Laws will be proclaimed within three months of the formation of caretaker government.  Where Press Laws aren’t proclaimed within such period, all Eritreans will have their inalienable rights to exercise freedom of speech.  Public media injure members of society will be dealt through the court system based on existing defamation, slander, and other laws. 

14.  “Sunshine Laws” will be proclaimed within one year.   This is to ensure that government becomes accountable and transparent.  Budget should be published at this time.

15.  Office of the Ombudsman will be established within one year.

Some might view the above issues as controversial.  But many opposition politicians and parties attempt to address even more complicated issues on the political structure of country (i.e. federalism or unitary or “grat” strategy), religion, land, official language.  But the most burning and yet the most workable issues are the ones mentioned above.  Discussion papers should be floated to the public to discuss various issues.  Discussion papers on “Demobilization”, “Farmer’s Cooperative”, “Disengaging government from private business”, “establishing Office of Ombudsman”, etc… should be floated to all Eritreans able to access such papers.  Let us take advantage of these tragic times to do the legwork for bright post-PFDJ Eritrea.   Our experience isn’t unique and can learn much the experiences of many other nations to draw up our discussion papers.  We aren’t re-inventing any wheels here.

At every gathering, and to reiterate for emphasis, opposition leaders should act like national leaders rather than just regurgitating how bad the regime is.  Instead, these leaders would say, ‘we have identified the problems, we know how to address those issues, and we are capable of addressing them.’  Similarly, we should stop asking these leaders the same questions repeatedly.   However, I would love to ask each one of these opposition leaders what they consider to be the top three national priorities (in order) immediately after the downfall of PFDJ.   Afterwards, we can gruel them with questions.

I just read with great enthusiasm that leaders of three of opposition parties – ENSF, EDP and RC will be conducting public seminar.  Although their messages won’t be anything new, their presence together will be symbolically more powerful than whatever their messages can ever be.  It is critical that joint EDA [rather than individual] leadership seminars are held periodically to send powerful symbolic messages.  It is also critical that EDA leadership, esp. Chairman and Secretary General, should be able to actively coordinate efforts and market their organization and platform to the public.  After all, that is leadership.  If we need symbolic leaders – we can call them Kings and Queens like monarchial systems, and let the prime ministers do the leadership work.  If instead of acting like leaders they want to become negotiators, this is also a specific job better left to another [negotiating] group.  Even the job of public relations should be left to public relations spokespeople.  Leadership has its own specific function.

In the end, it is what our astute young Eritrean men [EMDHR] in South Africa said – it is all about ‘bidho antsar Atehasasbana’.  


Websites should dedicate Sept. 18th as remembrance of all those who are arrested for pursuing freedom and democracy in Eritrea.  When Eritreans open your websites, they should only see the names and pictures of the thousands of Eritreans imprisoned.  If possible include poems, articles relating to the occasion, music relating to occasion, and pictures linked to personal stories.  There should be no access to other news on that day – No Somalia, No Darfur, No he did this in 1969, she did that … Some opposition websites have dedicated their sites for such commemorations in the past, and just need support from the other websites.    

We need oneness of message, oneness of marches – and oneness of opposition.  Political struggle is simply about doing the seemingly little things right and in sync.

Generally, it is heartwarming to see many articles already posted reflecting Sept. 18thEMDHR/VOD has done an excellent job featuring prisoners of conscious daily leading to Sept. 18th

I would like take this opportunity to congratulate Daniel Rezene for his excellent job on translating Sharpe’s manual.  Young men like Daniel and other young political activists show us why Eritrea still has bright future.  Well done! 

Heroes will live forever!

Heroes are the pillars of our democracy and freedom!

May Allah protect our heroes in PFDJ dungeons!

Berhan Hagos

September 14, 2006

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