Where is my father, Ermias Debes­sai Papayo and where is his sis­ter Sen­nait Debessai?

Lest we for­get them, our pris­on­ers of con­cience, our broth­ers, sis­ters, our fathers, our moth­ers, our daugh­ters, our sons, our reli­gious lead­ers. Lest we for­get them! This sea­son is the sea­son of new year and cel­e­bra­tions; but not for the count­less pris­on­ers of con­science in Eritrea. Not for their fam­ily mem­bers. Day and night, now for 10, 13, 15 or more years, they have been surv­ing like half-​dead. Where is my daugh­ter? Where is my son? Where is my father? Where is my mother? Where is my sis­ter? Where is my brother? In what con­di­tions are they in? Are they still alive?

Sen­nait Debes­sai (jailed): Ermias Debes­sai (Papayo) is one of the found­ing mem­bers of the EPLF. He joined the Eritrean lib­er­a­tion move­ment in 1967. He has served the in var­i­ous posi­tions dur­ing the strug­gle; includ­ing as for­eign rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the EPLF in, among oth­ers, the UK where he enticed the well-​know African Edi­tor of the BBC, Mar­tin Plaut to visit the lib­er­ated areas of Eritrea. After lib­er­a­tion he was Eritrean Ambas­sador to China and then to Uganda. He was recalled from Uganda and arrested in 1997 on alle­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion. In the kan­ga­roo courts of Isa­ias Afew­erki, he was sen­tenced for seven years. He never had the chance to defend him­self or hire a lawyer. Ermias is mar­ried and they have two chil­dren. While in prison, he was sick. I had a chance to visit him at the for­mer Ethiopian mil­i­tary base 35stegna (Setanta Otto). My mem­ory of Debes­sai goes back to Durfo when I was a young kid. When I went to Durfo to bring stuff from Asmara I heard his name Papayo and that of Vainac (Aspirin). As a child I was impressed by these two nick names.

Ermias was “released” from prison in 20012002 when the world was crit­i­ciz­ing the Eritrean regime for the arrest of the G15. To devi­ate the atten­tion, the regime “released” Ermias Debes­sai while in fact, he was put under house arrest; till his rear­rest on Sat­ur­day Novem­ber 15, 2003 together with his younger sis­ter, Sen­naity Debes­sai, mother of two children.

Sen­nait Debes­sai (Jailed) was a for­mer fighter and mem­ber of the EPLF-​cultural group. Here she is singing Lemin Lem­iney with Wedi Tukul, A clas­sic dur­ing the war of indepedence.



She was mar­ried to the Eritrean Ambas­sador to Kenya, Beyene Rus­som. They have two chil­dren. When she asked for divorce Rus­som went mad and a court case regard­ing the chil­dren was pend­ing. The court appoint­ment was for Thurs­day, Novem­ber 20, 2003. Rus­som is very close to Isa­ias Afw­erki. On Sat­ur­day 15 Novem­ber, secu­rity forces raided the house of Inda Aboy Debes­sai and arrested Sen­nait Debes­sai and her brother Ermias Debes­sai (papayo) early in the morn­ing /​night. Wit­ness to these arrests were the two chil­dren of Sen­nait and Beyene Rus­som, and the visu­ally impaired lovely sis­ter of both Sen­naity and Ermias. For Ermias who was arrested in 19961997 was this a rear­rest. Nobody knows where they are! The court case went ahead after the arrest of the mother and we hear the the judge decided to ben­e­fit Beyene Rus­som in everything.


In this clip, Aura, the daugh­ter of Ermias Debes­sai is ask­ing “Where is my Father?”

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