(from a former police interrogator)

Mrs Fozia Hashim
Minister of Justice

Honourable Minister,

I believe the word justice invokes the fair and equal treatment of all citizens or the protection of their rights under the rule of law. Had there been no rule of law, the strong and the rich would have consumed the poor. The boundaries of the rule of law should not be easily violated simply because one possesses the power and the might to do so and that is the reason why a Ministry of Justice is primarily established. That is also why the whole world has accepted its universal validity.

By twist of fate, you are the Minister of Justice for a government that is being incessantly accused and blamed for the gross violations of human rights, and by the powers bestowed on this Ministry, the protection of citizens’ rights rests entirely upon you. When the powers of an office are conducted accordingly, that same office is respected; but when it abuses that power, it is held responsible for crimes committed. I am sure this is not unknown secret to you.

Unfortunately, at this moment in time, if we see Eritrea as an independent nation, we cannot say there is a rule of law that protects the rights of citizens. If you wish to confirm these allegations, it should not be necessary for you to visit Dahlak, Ghel’alo, Wi’a, Ghedem, Hadish M’asker and the prisons spread out all over the wilderness in the countryside. All you have to do is go to Karsheli – just one kilometre away from your office. There, you will see conditions that can make you shed tears of blood – not water. That is when I can make you understand to what extent the rights of Eritreans have been violated. If you have a heart, you might cry and weep.

In Karsheli, there are prisoners who have no files and not at all known to the legal authorities. They have been locked behind bars not for months but years. All you need to do is to slightly open the doors and see the dirt, the hunger, the disease, the stink and look at their ashen- faced expression and, if there is a heart in you, your face will be washed in tears. There will be prisoners with swollen legs, dry lips, hollow eyes, skeletal faces and many who lost their minds.

But I don’t think you have the courage to get close to them.

Honourable Minister,

Ask anyone of the 8 members of the interrogation department about the prisoners of that 6 by 5 large prison cell. Just ask what their crime is. The problem is no member would know what reply to give. All they would say is that the prisoners are there by the orders of the President’s Office and security headquarters. And ask them if the legal authorities have any knowledge of these. The answer is clear. They will say, ‘No’.

Even the modified legal procedures inherited from the Ethiopian rule declare that any prisoner should not be held for more than 48 hours without charge. If a case needs clarification and demands a prisoner be held for longer, it requires the permission and approval of a court for an extension of not more than 28 days. Despite this knowledge, you will find out that the prisoners have not only been detained for months, but for years and most of them did not even commit crimes that require the attention of a court of law.

These are not the only abuses.

If you visit the 2nd Police Station (next door to Karsheli prison), you will find a tea shop on the right hand side and behind that, there is a huge iron gate. This is the big gate that leads to Karsheli. Once you enter, you will find men and women who are beaten while suspended like slaughtered sheep. It is much harder for the women. The beating is so harsh that they experience undue periods of their menstruation cycle. They bleed and they are not provided with water or pieces of cloth to clean themselves up. The blood flows down their legs and they are with their clothes soaked in blood. They look awful.

Honourable Minister,

May be you cannot or do not want to differentiate the pain and suffering of the Eritrean people from the sound of sweet music. But you should not forget that you will be held accountable for all these atrocities when the dawn of justice arrives.

I only mentioned Karsheli and the 2nd Police Station simply because they are close to your office. At this moment, since the whole of Eritrea has become a prison, you can imagine the abuses being committed on the people of Eritrea.

Since you are the Minister of Justice in a country where all these atrocities are being committed, no one will stop you if you choose to close your eyes, shut your mouth and deafen your ears.

You just have to remember that when justice strikes tomorrow, you have nowhere to run and no place to hide. Until then, the people of Eritrea will pray for you to stay alive.

However, during a time when the people of Eritrea are losing their senses under the shackles of injustice, it is not appropriate for you to claim that you hold the authority of a Minister of Justice.

Elsa Chyrum
30 September 2005
United Kingdom