• Do Not Let Anyone Enslave Your Mind.


In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 10 of 24)
By Yonas Araya

(First Published on Asmarino.com in May 2002)

Suppose in civilized countries, there is a physically disabled person in a wheelchair whose legs were amputated by a neighbor when found breaking into the neighbor’s house as a thief. Now, if this convicted criminal, now in a wheelchair, were to be physically attacked by a grown-up person or even by some hooligans, the whole town would become outraged. Some citizens might even become very angry to the point that they might even break the law and retaliate against the perpetrators of the violence. It would be incomprehensible for the citizens to think any person would attack a defenseless person.

The Date That Will Live In Infamy in Eritrean History
If post-Issayas Eritreans choose to change the  Martyrs’ Memorial Day, they should change it to this date. No Eritrean, let alone a disabled Liberation War Veteran, can be murdered in cold blood by the government for exercising their inalienable right to hold a peaceful demonstration.

On that infamous day, Issayas Afeworki demonstrated, not only to ordinary Eritreans, but to those who paid with their legs, hands, and sights, too, that their blood was insufficient to buy them this elementary right to hold a peaceful demonstration.

(Also, on that infamous day, he also succeeded in sending a chilling message to the general Eritrean public (Hafash) that says, if I can deal in this way with the war veterans, imagine how I can deal with you if you were to question my authority. And the public got his message loud and clear.)

In 1994, disabled Eritreans, who were unarmed, and some were in wheelchairs or crutches, were murdered in cold blood. But these physically disabled Eritreans were not rendered disabled by their neighbors because their neighbors found them trespassing as thieves; no, they were rendered physically disabled in the line of duty as they put their fellow citizens’ lives before theirs. But also, they were not murdered in cold blood by some hooligans but by an order from Issayas Afeworki. But worse, they were gunned down not because they rebelled against the government but because they held a peaceful demonstration.

Eritreans should commemorate that day annually as double martyrdoms day: to get rid of a colonial rule and a ruthless dictator. And let that day remind all future generations and leaders every year that no Eritrean can be murdered for expressing their views.

The self-appointed president of Eritrea argued that he had two good reasons to shoot the unarmed handicaps down:

  1. In his own words, because they were “spoiled”; according to Issayas, these blind, mute, deaf, crippled, maimed citizens, some in wheelchairs and some on crutches, were “spoiled.” And any spoiled person deserves to be gunned down.
  2. At a time when he was touting as having docile and submissive people, people who would do whatever he asked them to do, their demonstration badmouthed him in front of the whole world.

Nonetheless, after this horrendous crime was committed by Issayas Afeworki, as a human being, therefore, one would expect a surge of international condemnation against the Criminal – condemnations from hundreds of foundations, unions, and associations that advocate for training, resettling, and aiding the physically disabled persons from all over the civilized world – condemnation from every physically disabled person from the whole world. But not only that, but also because the victims were war veterans, one might expect some denunciation to rain upon the Criminal from some organizations of war veterans from some parts of the civilized world. But most of all, you would also expect Eritreans worldwide to condemn the crime and demonstrate against their government. But none of that happened. Sadly, many Eritreans did not even hear about it, much less the world. Many educated Eritreans worked very hard to cover up the embarrassing news, though Issayas was never embarrassed by his actions, only by the demonstration of his victims. And to this date, many members of the PFDJ deny it ever happened, and those who admit it give all kinds of explanations to justify the crimes of their “beloved president.”

In many parts of the world, people did not have to pay a single life to enjoy this elementary right to demonstrate peacefully. Even Eritreans in democratic counties enjoy these rights equally as the people of their host nations; they even parade in support of their President, protected and accompanied by the host nations’ police force. Recently, supporters of Issayas and his policies freely marched in front of the E.U.’s office in Europe to support the human rights abuse perpetrated by their deal leader, against the fundamental principle upon which the E.U. is built.

Even under Haile Selassie, Eritrean students held dozens of peaceful and sometimes violent demonstrations, yet, in that period, between 1962 and 1974, only a couple of students (I have no accurate data, but as far I can gather, two, but no more than 4) were killed, even so, the head of government of Ethiopia never directed the killing, but individual soldiers or low ranking-officials who acted of their own volition. (I am not justifying Ethiopia’s actions but comparing them with PFDJ’s. I am sure the Ethiopian government never prosecuted the perpetrators, but Eritreans never anticipated justice from Ethiopia either.

In many countries, the action taken against the heroes of Mai Habar would be enough to spark a revolution, even to start an armed struggle. For example, may I remind everyone that this ruthless dictator, Issayas Afeworki, formed the EPLF because some members of ELF executed some Christian peasants in Shimbare, and the leaders of ELF executed two Christian Tegadelti, Wolday Gidey, and Kidane Kiflu? ELF explains and maybe even justifies the death of the two, claiming they were shot dead while fleeing the guards who were “bringing them to justice from Kassala, Sudan” on “charges of embezzlement.” (See also part 14 of 24) Never mind the justification presented by the ELF, the fact remains, Issayas Afeworki justified the formation of his splinter group on account of the innocent lives of the two. His whole political campaign revolved around the issue of Ama Kensalit, ELF the liquidator. Now, after more than thirty years of forming his splinter group, this self-proclaimed human rights defender was caught red-handedly committing an unprecedented crime – murdering Liberation War veterans in broad daylight.

Dear reader, I do not know of any dictator who has ordered handicaps and war veterans shot; therefore, even by the standard of colonists and dictators, Issayas Afeworki has to be the progenitor of all ruthless dictators, and the epitome of all that is evil.
Dear reader, if you don’t have time to read the whole part of this article today, I urge you to read at least the below-presented message by Martin Niemoller. I am sure you have read his statements many times, but please allow me to present them in this article, as I believe his wisdom is needed now in Eritrea more than ever.

There are many controversies in the sequences of the statements expressed, so please disregard the sequences, additions, or omissions. My aim is not to discuss those but to relate his message to present-day Eritrea. In short, Niemoller, a German, was a Protestant pastor. Though he initially supported the Third Reich, he quickly renounced it, and for that reason, he was arrested in 1937 by the Nazis and incarcerated in concentration campsHe nonetheless regretted his initial support of the Third Reich for the rest of his life because he felt that had from the beginning he and other clergy denounced the Nazis relentlessly, they would have awakened the German people and perhaps saved millions of lives. Here is his famous statement: (this is only one of the many versions of his statement.)

In Germany, they (the Nazis) first came for the communists, but I did not speak up,
because I was not a Communist;
Then they came for the Jews, but I did not speak up,
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, but I did not speak up,
because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, but I did not speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, but by then, no one was left to speak up.

What we can learn from the above statement is that if you don’t speak out when someone else’s civil rights are violated, no one will be left to speak out for you by the time your civil rights are violated. In 1994, we Eritreans failed to protest the murder of our heroes, who lost their limbs and sights on our behalf, yet never even had the chance to see what independence looked like with their own eyes. I know I did nothing; hence guilt may live with me for the rest of my life. But Issayas did not stop his murderous act at the handicaps.

Again, he recently banished Asmara University students, who were not even holding any demonstration, en masse, to inhospitable places and caused untold miseries, including deaths upon them. Again, this is something Eritrean students had never experienced, even under any colonist, something that could have sparked a stiff resistance against the colonists by all Eritreans had the colonists done this to them. Even when Italian colonists banished or incarcerated many Eritreans to NaKura Island, they did not do it indiscriminately; they did not arrest Eritreans en masse.

Moreover, the “G15,” individuals who are primarily responsible for creating the Monster, also by the way who never protested against the murder of our Mai Habar heroes, are now themselves incarcerated.

And what’s more, Issayas has locked up journalists and thousands of nameless others in many prisons and prison camps. He has even incarcerated, for months now, elderly men (Abeiti Adi) who had attempted to mediate. But, sadly, they won’t be his last victims.

No one has to agree with the “G-15”, the journalists, the students, or even the elderly men. No one has even to believe that they are innocent. One has the right even to think they should all be sentenced to death.

But this is not about the “G-15.”  It is far more series than that. Whether or not they stood for the respect of human rights is beside the point now. Personally, I never liked the members of the “G-15” when they were ministers. I never attended their conferences. I boycotted their talks. But right now, the inalienable right of every Eritrean is at stake, and no Eritrean is safe. If each Eritrean does not speak out directly when the civil rights of their fellow citizens get violated, they should know that no one will be left to speak out for them by the time their civil rights get violated. As simple as that.

In the past, Eritreans refused to live under oppression and paid an enormous price for what they hoped would usher them into liberty. Unfortunately, they have ended up one step behind where they started. But consistent with their desires to live in freedom, Eritreans must embark on a journey to liberty once more. They should not accept life under PFDJ’s oppression any more than they should accept life under Ethiopian or any foreign oppression.

Eritrea should not guarantee or promise every Eritrean a car, a house, or even an education. But there is always one thing that Eritrea should guarantee to all its citizens, something that Eritrea can afford right now and always in the future: it should guarantee each Eritrean citizen their inalienable right to demonstrate and protest peacefully; their rights to question the authority through peaceful petitions and demonstrations.

Now back to Eritrea’s heroes murdered by Issayas in cold blood, how do we think their mothers, fathers, siblings, and comrades feel, not only because they lost their loved ones at the hands of Issayas, but also their people, people for whom these heroes became physically disabled chose to turn their back on them for fear of displeasing the Murderer? How would you feel if the victims were your children, brothers, father, or mother?

Glory to Our Martyrs, this is the phrase you hear over and over from the lovers of Issayas, and if you are like me, every time you hear this phrase from individuals with no slight regard for martyrs, you would feel they are desecrating the graves of the martyrs. By the way, do the lovers of Issayas include the heroes of Mai Habar, who their beloved leader murdered among the martyrs?

Will continue in part 11 of 24
Next, parts 11, 12, and 13 will discuss the sensitive issues of languages.

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