Eritrea: The authorized version of events

coat_of_arms_of_eritrea

The Eritrean government propaganda are so outrageous that even the hardcore government supporters have to tune-down government propaganda in an effort to make the claims seem less stupid.

Even critics often moderate many of the government’s claims just to make them reasonable enough to be critiqued (for the claims are silly beyond that possible to criticize).

The above is taken from my post a year ago, “Eritrea according to the government”. Then I discussed how the “authorized version” of Eritrea is nothing like the Eritrea people talk about. Government supporters and critiques alike routinely moderate the government’s stand on things. It’s not fair.

Below I have laid out the typical government position on various things. I am playing the sober government official. This piece is not a satire.

[These government stands are pretty much “common knowledge” for anyone who follows Eritrean government affairs.]

The authorized version of events

(1) Arrest of G-15

It is common knowledge that 15 or so high officials were arrested in 2001. Some people focus on the “how” and on minor technical details. Doing so they miss the big picture: “why?”

The G-15 were not arrested for criticizing or challenging the government. The Eritrean political culture is based on constructive criticism and discussion. Those officials were arrested for treason and for collaboration with the enemy. They trampled on the blood of our martyrs and decided to negotiate through back channels with our enemies (Western powers and Ethiopia) in order to ‘sell’ Eritrea for personal gains.

Talking on the “how” and on technical aspects of their arrest… true there might have been certain procedural oversights, or even blunders I dare say. But that should not divert us from the big picture. They deserve to be arrested. Justice needed to be done.

(2) Freedom of Press

Eritrea does not ban independent media inside the country. The closing down of the three or so non-Eritrean-government owned media had nothing to do with freedom of press. The reason these newspapers were closed in 2001 was because it was found that these newspapers were being subsidized and operated by Western elements. We have evidences that suggest they were being used by foreign intelligence agencies. Obviously we cannot allow foregn intelligence agencies to operate in Eritrea.

Various Western so called human rights and press freedom organizations have accused us of lack of press freedom. This is baseless accusation.

Reporters Without Borders  for example has ranked Eritrea as having the lowest press freedom in the world while at the same time, simultaneously, ranking Eritrea alongside North Korea. This shows the West is ignorant of North Korea.

(3) Arrest of ‘journalists’

Our constitution guarantees freedom of press and the government holds this right dear. What must be emphasized is that the so called journalists who were allegedly arrested in 2001 were not arrested for their journalistic work. No one in Eritrea has ever been arrested for being a journalist.

(4) Closing of the only University

The University was restructured to meet the ever increasing number of new students. The university was restructured and its resources reallocated to various new colleges. The new colleges were purposely installed across all regions of the country to ensure equal development of all regions of Eritrea. In short the university was “multiplied” by opening new institutions of higher education.

As a result the number of students enrolling and graduating across the country has grown dramatically. The new colleges have their own challenges: they might be less equipped, infrastructure is still basic and so on. But that is the price we are willing to pay for the future development of education for all.

(5) Detention of University students in 2001

In 2001 students of University of Asmara volunteered to work on development projects in their summer break. Accordingly the government assigned the students  to participate in the reconstruction of their country. The students were assigned to work on rural Eritrea for the summer, which they did.

Some media outlets deliberately distorted this simple fact and made outrageous accusation on the government. They reported that because the university students refused to comply to work without compensation, the  government had detained the entire student body (over 2,000 students) in a desert military camp at Wia (about 45 kilometers south of Massawa city) for months. Such reports are utter rubbish.

(6) Involvement with Al-Shabaab of Somalia

We have been accused of arming, training, and equipping armed groups including al-Shabaab. And hence become the victims of an un-just sanction by the UN Security Council since December 2009.

Eritrea supports the self determination of the Somali people and condemns the involvement of any foreign powers trying to institute puppet government in Somali.

The Eritrean government is committed to helping the Somali people by all diplomatic and political means. Other than that the Eritrean government has never armed, trained, and/or equipped any armed group in Somalia or in the region.

(7) Clashes with Djibouti

The United Nations and the Djibouti government claimed that Eritrea had military clashes with Djibouti on 10 to 12 June of 2008. Furthermore, they claim that Eritrea has refused to disclose information on Djibouti combatants killed or captured in these so called clashes.

The government of Eritrea deny there ever was any military clashes with Djibouti. The government, therefore, has no knowledge of and cannot produce the allegedly ‘missing’ Djibouti combatants.

If there was any minor border skirmishes between Djibouti and our border patrols: we deny any minor border skirmishes.

It is a shame that this false information, along with false allegations of trying to destabilize parts of Horn of Africa was used to impose UN sanction on Eritrea in 2009.

(8) Detention of Orthodox Patriarch: Abune Antonios

The Eritrean Orthodox Church is the biggest Christian denomination in the nation. Regarding the administration of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the government of Eritrea has knowledge of the following: Abune Antonios was elected Patriarch by the Holy Synod on March 2004 and enthroned as the third Patriarch of the Eritrean Church on April 2004. On January 2006 the Holy Synod decided to remove the Patriarch and elected Patriarch Dioscoros as his successor.

We have heard allegations that the Eritrean government was involved in removing the Patriarch. Some have even gone as far as accusing us of detaining His holiness the ex-Patriarch.

As matter of principle the Eritrean government does not involve in any internal working of religious organizations. We cannot comment on church internal procedures. We don’t keep track of citizens and we don’t have any reason to investigate the whereabouts of the ex-Patriarch Abune Antonios.

(9) Persecution of religions

Eritrea guarantees the freedom of thought and freedom of religion. Various Western so called human rights organizations (including the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International) have accused us of religious intolerance. We stand accused of the banning of houses of worship, torture, arbitrary arrest of persons based on religion (including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians, Orthodox Christians, and Moslems). In addition we stand accused of interfering in the religious orders and the administration of the Eritrean Orthodox, the Catholic, the Lutheran and the Moslem.

We deny all accusations.

(10) Restriction of travel within or outside the country

This piece of misinformation is repeated everywhere that it is often accepted by the gullible without question.

The government of Eritrea does not impose travel restrictions. This misinformation stems from the fact that Eritreans doing their military service under the National Service are not allowed to leave the country without completing their national duty.

In addition while doing military duty, conscripts are of course subject to certain restrictions of the army barracks they are in. this is standard procedure for any country. Otherwise any Eritrean who has completed his or her National Service is free to leave and enter the country just like anywhere in the world.

(11) Shoot-to-kill border policy

Eritrea is currently in a standoff with the Ethiopian occupiers. The Ethiopian government currently has occupied land that belongs to Eritrea and has refused to heed to the the final and binding arbitration of the  The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EECB).

Due to the extensive militarization of our borders and the repeated incursion of Ethiopian army units into our borders, people illegally crossing the border risk being mistaken for enemy combatants. So far the government has not reported of any incident (accident) in which a civilian was shot at, but it would not be unprecedented if that happens given the tense nature of our borders.

People caught leaving or entering our borders illegally are brought before civilian Court and processed according to the law. It is unthinkable that any citizen risks arbitrary arrest, torture or even death for crossing our borders illegally.

(12) Indefinite conscription

The Eritrean law requires that all men and women spend 18 months of National Service which includes six months of military training. Draft dodging is a crime and is punished as such. Cases are handled on a case by case bases and I cannot comment (nor can I remember by heart) on the possible punishment handed to individuals for draft dodging, but I can definitely guarantee that any punishment the Eritrean legal system issues if fair and fits the level of the crime.

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*please e-mail me (DissidentDiaries@Gmail.com) or use the form below to send me additional topics I should address.

 

ቅሉዕ መልእኽቲ ን ተጋደልቲ

ተግባር ልዕሊ ቃላት ይዛረብ:: ከምኡ እንተዘይከውን ኔሩ: ተጋደልቲ ንናጽነትን ንክብረትን ህዝቢ ዝተቓለሱ ሰባት እዮም: ምበልኩ ኔረ::

ዝተቓለስኩምሉን ዘዓወትኩሞን ውድብ ክብረት ወዲ ሰብ ዘይፈልጥ: ብፍላይ እኳደኣ ንዘይ-ተጋዳላይ ህዝቢ ሕሉፍ ንዕቀት ዘለዎ እዩ::

ንሕና ዝተቓለስና ንህዝብና ኢና:” ዝብል ቃላትኩም ተግባር ውድብኩም ክሳዕ ዝተጻረሮ: ሓሶት እዩ::

እንታይ እሞ ክንብል? “ሓሳብኩም ይኣክል” ክንብለኩም?! ከምኡ ከይንብለኩም ከኣ: “ተዓሺና: ተጋጊና” አይበልኩምን::

ተራ-ተጋዳላይ ካብቲ መሪሕነት (ማለት ካብ ህ.ግ.ሓ.ኤ. /ህ.ግ.ደ.ፍ.) ፈልየ ክርኢ ከምዘለኒ ይርደኣኒ’ዩ::

ብርግጽ ገለ ካባኹም: “ንተጋደልቲ ብተግባራት ህ.ግ.ሓ.ኤ. ምኽሳስ: ከም ንወተሃደራት ሃገራዊ ኣገልግሎት ብተግባራት ህ.ግ.ደ.ፍ. ምኽሳስ’ዩ::” ትብሉኒ ትኾኑ:: ኣይተጋገኹምን:: ግን እኮ ንህዝቢ ዘእስሩን ዝገፍዑን ኣባላት ሃገራዊ ኣገልግሎት ውን መሊኦም አለዉ:: እቲ ዝተረፈ ወተሃደር ግን ‘ግዳይ’እዩ::

እዚ መልእኽተይ ነቶም ግዳይ ህ.ግ.ሓ.ኤ. ኢና ዝብሉ ተጋደልቲ አይምልከትን::

እዚ መልእክተይ ነቶም ግዳይ ሓሶትን ምትላልን ህ.ግ.ሓ.ኤ. ኮይንኖም: ናይ ብሓቂ ምእንቲ ህዝቢ ዝቃለስ ውድብ መሲልዎም ዝተጋደሉ ተጋደልትን ስውኣንት አይምልከትን::

ዕድል ኮይኑ መብዝሕትኹም ተጋደልቲ ብህይወት ዓዲ አቲኹም:: ዘሕዝን ድማ መብዛሕትኹም ደገፍቲ መንግስቲ ኮይንኩም ነዚ ስርዓት (ህ.ግ.ሓ.ኤ./ህ.ግ.ደ.ፍ.) ቀደም ንዝገበሮን ሕጅውን ንዝገብሮ ዘሎን ግፍዕታት ብምምኽናይ ወይ ድማ ብተሳትፉ ትሕግዙ አለኹም::

ተግባር ልዕሊ ቃላት ይዛረብ::

ሓንቲ ሕቶ ክሓተኩም: እቶም ዝተሰውኡ ብጾትኩም ኩሎም ግዳያት ግዱድ ዕስክርና (ግፋ) ወይ ድማ ግዳያት ምትላልን ሓሶትን ህ.ግ.ሓ.ኤ. ድዮም? ከምኡ እንተዘይኮይኖም’ሲ ከምቲ መንግስቲ ዝብሎ ምስ ህ.ግ.ሓ.ኤ./ህ.ግ.ደ.ፍ. ዝሰማምዑ ሰባት እዮም ኔሮም ማለትዩ::

ስውኣት ከምዞም ብህይወት ዝኣተኩም ገፋዕቲ ወይ ድማ ተሓባበርቲ ገፋዕቲ እንተኔሮም’ሲ ክብርን ሞጎስን ብጭራሽ አይግብኦምን’ዩ::
martyrs_vs_fighters

ዝከበርኩም ተጋደልቲ: ንህዝብና እቲ ዝግበር በደል ጌርኩሞ ኢኹም:: በደልኩም ተኣሚንኩም ክሳዕ ዘይተነሳሕኩም: አካላት እቲ ኣሳቕዩን አዋሪዱን: ንዓይን ንብጾተይን ዓድና ዘግደፈና አውሬ ምዃንኩም እዩ::

ኣሸኒፍኩምና: አንበርኪኽኩምና ኢኹም:: ንኹሉ ካብ ህዝቢ ዝገጠመኩም ብድሆ: ልክዕ ከም ንሰራዊት ደርግ ኣዋሪድኩም ስዒርኩሞ ኢኹም:: ንሃይማኖትና አሸኒፍኩምዎ ኢኹም: ንባህልና ከምኡ:: ንኹሉ ክቃወመኩም ዝፈተነ አንበርኪኽኩምዎ ኢኹም::

ዝኸበርኩም ተጋደልቲ: ሰብ ተዘይ ፈራህኩም ን እግዚኣብሄር ፍርሑ:: በጃኹም ንህዝግና ግደፍዎ:: ሰብ ንዘለኣለም አይነብርን’ዩ:: አለና ዝበልኩሞ ክብረት ዓወት: ብዘይ ህዝብኹምን አምላኽን ኩሉ ከንቱ እዩ: በጃኹም ግደፉና:: በጃኹም ንህዝበይ ግደፍዎ::
_______________________

My People
When you gonna leave
My People
Give them room to breathe
My People
Stop oppressing
My People
All they want is bread and clothes
Space to rest – and left alone
(-ዩሱፍ እስላም)

The dialogue with Elsa Chyrum

“Has God deliberately blinded us, or is it that we are callous because we have seen too much suffering.” Elsa Chyrum  challenged the Eritrean community, “We can’t continue living our daily lives as if nothing is happening.” She said our first objective should be “to remove this regime and to institute a system that respects human rights.”

Elsa Chyrum

Elsa Chyrum delivering her talk after a brief introduction by Almaz Negash (not in photo)

In addition to the talk by the respected Eritrean human rights activist Ms. Elsa Chyrum, the Conference titled “A Dialogue with Elsa Chyrum on the Global Crisis of Eritrean Refugees and Asylum Seekers.” had three main speakers: Almaz Negash, Saleh Gadi Johar and Saleh Younis. The event was predominantly conducted in Tigrinya language and ‘live’ English translation was projected for non-native attendees.

Elsa was modest in her talk and hardly talked about her work and achievements. Saleh Younis pointed this out and asked that she explain the recent hunger strike she did in protest of the detentions of Eritrean refugees in Djibouti. She explained that she took the action out of desperation having exhausted all hope that the Djibouti authorities would ever take the matter seriously. She pleaded and begged Djibouti authorities, at some point even met with the current Prime Minister.  “I even pleaded that they at-least release the Eritreans to neighboring countries under police escort if need be,” she said. Elsa said after the hunger strike, the UNHCR now recognizes the Eritreans in Djibouti as refugees and she believes that the international community has now put pressure on Djibouti authorities to resolve the matter.

Throughout her talk, Elsa was very soft-spoken person. One can feel genuine concern for the pain of Eritreans in her speech. During a visit to Eritrean refugee camps in Ethiopia, Elsa said she was touched to see hundreds and hundreds of young children who left Eritrea without their parents. “Seeing these little children living alone in refugee camp, seeing the future generation of Eritrea in such sad state I felt ill immediately. I had stomach pain that lasted for almost six months after wards.” Elsa said.

When asked a question on what we the diaspora need to do, Elsa replied that  it is important we start with helping those in our surrounding, “Our actions have to start with helping Eritrea refugees locally. We can achieve most there.”

_____________________

Saleh Gadi Johar centered his talk on human trafficking, “Human trafficking is not unique to Eritrea, its a global phenomena. So what makes human trafficking in Eritrea different?” After briefly highlighting global human trafficking challenges, he said that we should try to tackle it at the organization level and we should focus less on the ‘foot soldiers’ committing the crimes.

In one instance he likened human trafficking to drug smuggling and how difficult it is even for the greatest nations to tackle, “we have become like fire fighters running around trying to put out fire here and there, let us ask bigger questions ‘Who benefits from human trafficking of Eritreans?’… lets research and try to catch the bigger fish.” He also expressed his disappointment that many don’t actively involve in fighting human trafficking, “In four years [of research] I only have two phone numbers that belong to kidnappers. So why are we not open about it. I can understand it is difficult to inform on kidnappers when your loved ones are in the hands of traffickers but we should actively try to expose the criminals once we get our loved ones freed.”

"Either you are an activist or you are not." -Saleh Gadi Johar

“Either you are an activist or you are not.” -Saleh Gadi Johar

Saleh Younis talked on issues of Eritrea refugees, “Both the pull factor and the push factors that drive Eritreans to flee have increased in the past years.” He said, “and those responsible for either side blame each other as the main cause. Those responsible for the ‘push’ factor blame that the West is making it too easy for Eritreans to be granted Asylum, those on the ‘pull’ side complain that the tyrant needn’t press his boot so hard on his population.”

SalehY

“Decades of abuse have made the Eritrean pride dissolve away from Eritreans” -Saleh Younis

________________________

An Eritrean Refugee, Stephanos Semere, who was a conscript of the Eritrean regime for nine years gave a testimony of his flight from Eritrea and the challenges he faced on his way to the USA.

The talks session was followed by a panel discussion with question and answer session.

Worried that I might miss my train, I had to leave early. According to the program flyer the conference ended with Closing Remarks  followed by Award of Appreciation presented to Elsa Chyrum on behalf of the Bay Area Eritrean Community.

flyer

Sponsors of the event from the flyer

7 Years a slave: story of a ‘National Service’ survivor

My name is Robel Tesfai and I was born in 1979,” A video message from the young Eritrean man starts. Rebel is a survivor of the Eritrean ‘National Service’.

Speaking in his native language of Tigrinya Robel says, “To me National Service is slavery.” And he should know, he spent seven years of his life in the ‘National Service’. Since the totalitarian dictatorship declared a mandatory 18 months-long military service in 1993, the government has been forcefully conscripting everyone between the ages of 18-ish and 50-ish.

Robel describes how he was forced to ‘serve’ without compensation and without hope of ever being released from ‘Service’. Robel confirms that conscripts are routinely made to work as laborers in farms and construction works, often for the benefit of army commanders and Party inner-members.

If the accounts of the thousands of young Eritreans leaving the country every month, such as Robel, is to be trusted; then the Eritrean government has effectively legalized slavery. 7yearsslaveEritrea’s “National Service” comes complete with all the paraphernalia associated with the practice of slavery: justification of economic importance, cultural superiority of the masters (the revolutionary culture– ‘temekuro mieda’), emphasis on the ignorance and unruliness of subjects if left to themselves, reiterating the importance of slavery for national security, etc.

Often army commanders (slave masters) are granted almost unlimited power over their subjects. Commanders routinely punish disobedient subjects  harshly through denial of annual leave and travel permits, denial of medical treatment, etc. Commanders are granted the freedom to  deliver all sorts of physical and mental torture they see fit to get the job done.

Robel concludes his video message with a touching message telling us why he decided to speak out, “I now live in Bologna, free and leading a peaceful life. I wish peaceful and free life to all compatriots who are still denied freedom. But I don’t wish that they flee their country and suffer the risks of Sinai or the Mediterranean like I did to be free. I wish to be their voice and express my desire for their misery to come to pass. I wish for the National Service to finally be for the benefit of our country. This is my hope.

The video was posted as part of “Stop Slavery in Eritrea” campaign. Over the past months the campaign has been active in facilitating survivors to make a statements by posting photos of themselves wearing the “Stop National Service Slavery in Eritrea” T-shirt.