(Published in The Guardian; Sept. 18, 2016)

Today marks a bleak date in the country’s history, when a paranoid elite began a brutal campaign to cement its grip on power

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Exactly 15 years ago, Eritrea’s hard-won independence was hijacked by a paranoid political elite who have clung to power ever since.

It was on this day in 2001 that President Isaias Afwerki jailed 11 top government officials and banned seven independent newspapers. So started the insidious takeover that has seen the country become a military state, prompting the exodus of Eritreans to Europe we are witnessing today.

State security agents then rounded up and jailed 12 journalists. To this day, none of the detainees have been tried in a court of law, and they remain incommunicado in secret prisons. Their families don’t know if they are alive.

Many civilian posts were taken over by military commanders. The army was stationed in all major towns and cities, and anyone working in the public sector was instructed to report to them. Click here to read the whole story from The Guardian

(Originally published in Index on Censorship; Sept. 16, 2016)

It initially sounded like a joke; gradually it got serious and then tragic. A decade and a half later, it is catastrophe.

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Fifteen years ago on 18 September, 2001, fellow students of University of Asmara and I were confined in two labour camps, GelAlo and Wi’A, for defying a requirement of unpaid summer work. We were kept in the camps, under harsh, atrocious living conditions and open to the weather that normally reaches 45 C (113 F) for about five weeks. As we were preparing to return home, we learned the government had banned seven private newspapers and imprisoned 11 top government officials.

The day after our homecoming, beaten down and demoralised, I went to meet Amanuel Asrat, chief editor of Zemen newspaper. About 10 days before that, he had received an article, in which I detailed our living conditions, that I had managed to get smuggled out of the prison camp. My piece was published in the last issue of the newspaper. Click here to read the original article from Index on Censorship

(First published in PEN Eritrea; Sept. 2, 2016)

Photo Courtesy of (http://www.theeritreanexodus.com/ )

With the Eritrean government’s dismal failure to live up to high expectations, and a hopelessly polarized diaspora community, we’ve reached a vile state where seemingly any casual observer can suddenly turn into an Eritrean expert and even be celebrated among the Eritrean diaspora. This trend, unfortunately, is devolving into self-hate and an unseemly dependency on foreigners. Characteristically, if non-Eritrean appears on the international media or other forums to discuss the Eritrean abysmal situation, subsequently many Eritreans on the opposition camp would change their Facebook profile photo to the person’s the next day. It also goes similar way on the other camp.

The situation can present fertile ground for pseudo-experts to exploit and capitalize on the continued suffering in Eritrea. You can click here to read the original article in PEN Eritrea.Continue reading

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Abraham Zere was in 2001 a young freelance journalist for the newspaper Zemen, run by editor and poet Amanuel Asrat. “He suspected he would be arrested, but thought it could never last long”, Zere tells about Asrat, who he calls “my role model”. Most detainees disappeared in the infamous Eiraeiro prison. Zere, who works for Pen Eritrea (an international group which agitates for the interests of writers), obtained  over the years a little bit of information about them, first by a camp guard and  then an anonymus whistleblower: of the 35 taken in detention 15 years ago 15 are still alive. Click here to read the article.

(First published in The Athens News: August 28, 2016)

Athens is at its best, characterized with endless house parties and a leap forward for most, where everything is looking gay. That is why I do not want to spoil returning students’ mood with an admonishing tone; you already had that in last week’s back-to-school orientations, right?

The Athens air is filled with positive vibes and superlative adjectives such as “awesome,” “incredible,” “super excited,” “terrific,” etc. – those commonly used in Donald Trump’s speeches. Freshmen students are experiencing their first stay away from home (in most cases), and many international students are possibly celebrating their coming to America, rapidly deconstructing the initial image they had of the United States. The process of getting an American entry visa by itself, for many, is as big as graduation.

I have returned back to school after two years and have to go through the mundane (in most cases) first week orientations that I already had first experienced four years ago. Going through all these orientations and email communications, I feel I am either too old, or else, nothing is new. Of course, at the other end, I also feel everything is new. Click here to read the original article from The Athens News.