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 3 — 2014
“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
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.