Jour­nal­ist Sey­oum Tse­haye in incom­mu­ni­cado deten­tion since Sep­tem­ber 2001! I wrote the fol­low­ing arti­cle on May 3, World Press Free­dom Day.

The Con­fla­tion of Lampe­dusa and World Press Free­dom Day. A let­ter to 14 year pris­oner and col­league Sey­oum Tse­haye

By Habtom Yohannes
May 32014

“I want my father back, Belula and I want our father back. Please help.” Abi Sey­oum at the UN Human Rights Coun­cil last year in Geneva

Dear Sey­oum,

It has been almost 14 years since you were arrested on Sep­tem­ber 2001 together with all inde­pen­dent Eritrean jour­nal­ists and crit­ics of the gov­ern­ment. All these years you have been held –assum­ing you are still alive– incom­mu­ni­cado in one of the count­less dun­geons of the Eritrean regime. I don’t know if you still remem­ber me, but we used to call you: the “photographer-​fighter”. As an artist you loved art, pho­tog­ra­phy, film and jour­nal­ism. You loved also lan­guages. You were a French teacher before you joined the Eritrean People’s Lib­er­a­tion Front (EPLF) to fight for the inde­pen­dence of Eritrea and the lib­erty of its peo­ple. You fought with, in one hand Kalash­nikov and in the other hand a cam­era. You recorded almost all impor­tant bat­tles and the regime still uses them for its own pro­pa­ganda but your face, voice and name are erased from the footages; like those of oth­ers who are either in prison or in exile. The regime spends a lot of money to erase every crit­i­cal mind from films, music and photo’s once they are arrested, exiled or killed. The regime con­trols the mind of the peo­ple. Peo­ple who men­tion the names of pris­on­ers of con­science end up in prison. But you are not erased from our mem­o­ries. These days I have changed my pro­file photo’s with your pic­ture. Since I know for­get­ting is dying! You are not the only one who fight not to forget.

After inde­pen­dence you became the direc­tor of the state-​owned tele­vi­sion Eri-​Tv but you were sacked because of your crit­i­cal mind. I don’t know if this let­ter will reach you, but I am writ­ing it to keep your mem­o­ries and name alive. Because if we for­get you; you will die sooner even if you phys­i­cally are still alive. So please remem­ber your fam­ily and friends if you don’t want to die soon.

But I have another rea­son for writ­ing. Your beloved wife and your two chil­dren — yes Sey­oum, you have two beau­ti­ful daugh­ters now — fled Eritrea and they live now in France. Abi was 2 years old when you got arrested and you left Belula in the womb of her mother. You were being tor­tured dur­ing the labour of your daugh­ter you have never seen. The secu­rity forces arrested you on Sep­tem­ber 18, 2001 while you were doing your morn­ing exer­cise at home.

Your beloved wife who is still wait­ing for you and your beloved chil­dren miss you a lot. I am sure you would be extremely proud of them. Recently your old­est Abi addressed the UN Human Rights Coun­cil in Geneva at her 14. She moved the whole audi­ence when she said:

“I have not seen my father since Sep­tem­ber 2001. I was two years old. He was arrested with the reformists and the Eritrean jour­nal­ists dur­ing major raids ordered by the Eritrean Gov­ern­ment. One of the only mem­o­ries I have of my father is a video. In this film, he plays with me. He loved chil­dren. My lit­tle sis­ter Belula was born while he was in jail. She does not know our father, but like me she knows he is still alive some­where in prison in Eritrea. For twelve years.” She doesn’t want you to die! Your daugh­ters are say­ing that you are still alive. Please con­tinue to live for the sake of them. They have made a lot of copies of the film where you are play­ing with Abi your daugh­ter when she was 2, before your arrest. As if they are still afraid for new raids by the Eritrean Gov­ern­ment, they have archived the copies with dif­fer­ent friends in dif­fer­ent places. They watch the film every­day not to for­get you. What do you do in your prison cell not to for­get them? We hear that you are not even allowed to talk with the guard who cuts your hair or who shoves two dry breads a day in your cell.

I don’t know if you regret your crit­i­cal think­ing after 14 years of sep­a­ra­tion from your beloved wife and beloved chil­dren. They don’t want you to feel guilty. You are not the only pris­oner of conscience.

We are all pris­on­ers as long as one of us is in prison. The coun­try you fought for its inde­pen­dence and lib­erty has become an open prison.

Belula Sey­oum talk­ing about her dad who she hasn’t seen in almost 14 years and Abi who was still in her mother’s womb when her dad was arrested

Well my friend and col­league, what can I tell you more? Eritrea is still in the grip of your for­mer com­rades who have become the Franken­stein of Eritrea. Accord­ing to UNHCR thou­sands of Eritre­ans flee the coun­try every month. Last year 366 Eritre­ans drowned in the Mediter­ranean Sea and the regime still refuses to accept the bod­ies that are still lying in tem­po­rary holes in Lampe­dusa. Today 3 May is not only World Press Free­dom Day but it has been six months since the 366 died. They are still wait­ing repa­tri­a­tion. I won’t bother you with the details of their agony. Yes, Eritre­ans are dying at the doorsteps of for­mer col­o­niz­ers. If you flee oppres­sion the regime calls you a trai­tor and trai­tors don’t deserve to be buried in Eritrea. Fam­i­lies can’t demand the repa­tri­a­tion of the bod­ies of beloved ones. We have still no inde­pen­dent media or a par­lia­ment that can hold the regime and the pres­i­dent to account for ignor­ing the plight of the moth­ers and sis­ters who are still wait­ing for the bod­ies of their beloved ones. World Press Free­dom Day mat­ter, jour­nal­ists mat­ter, trans­parency and account­abil­ity mat­ter. I don’t know if you have heard that the pres­i­dent for live of Eritrea, Isa­ias Afew­erki can decide alone who is going to be buried in Eritrea, who is going to be buried in the martyr’s ceme­tery and who not.

The body of the late Naizghi Kiflu is thrown in Lon­don just because the Pres­i­dent refused to allow the fam­ily to bury their beloved one in his vil­lage.

Peace­ful demon­stra­tion, elec­tion, par­lia­ment, jour­nal­ism, inde­pen­dent judi­ciary and oppo­si­tion are still for­bid­den words in Eritrea. The Eritrean pres­i­dent Isa­ias Afew­erki is still the leader of Eritrea 24 years after inde­pen­dence and he has vowed to stay in power as long as it takes.

Your daugh­ters went to the Eritrean Embassy in France to ask the where­abouts of their father, you, the “fighter-​photographer”, Sey­oum Tse­haye. But the Eritrean ambas­sador, your col­league called the French police and removed them. If they were in Eritrea they would have been arrested like you.

Abi didn’t stop there. She went to the UN in Geneva and she spoke on behalf of her­self, her sis­ter and the count­less chil­dren whose fathers and moth­ers have been lan­guish­ing behind bars. She coura­geously con­fronted another Ambas­sador in Geneva and asked him: “Where is My Father?”

You must be proud of her. Those who impris­oned you and your likes are afraid of your crit­i­cal mind. Oth­er­wise, they would have released you long ago. Actu­ally they are the pris­on­ers. Stay well and con­tinue to encour­age the oth­ers. Time for change is nigh.