Issayas Afeworki Has the Worst, and One-of-its-kind Prison System.
Here are some of the rules that govern PFDJ's prison system and the way the PFDJ/EPLF deals with its many political prisoners, prison guards, families of political prisoners, and Amnesty International:

  1. Prisoners must lie down on the ground day and night, and only on their backs.
  2. Prisoners must stare at the sky, or at the ceiling, for as long as they have been in prison. Some have been doing this for several years.
  3. Prisoners cannot jerk, or make any slight movements while lying down, no matter how much uncomfortable or fatigued they are.
  4. Prisoners are prohibited from scratching any part of their bodies.
  5. Prisoners are not allowed to glance left or right; they are not allowed to make any eye contacts with prison guards. They are not allowed to make any eye contacts with inmates, even when they are at a lunch or dinner table (ma'adi). They are not allowed to tell apart who they are with.
  6. Prisoners are assigned unique numbers by which to be identified, thereby prevented from identifying the names of their inmates in the event, and if they are released.
  7. Prisoners are prohibited from making any contact with their loved ones.
  8. Families are explicitly prohibited or systematically prevented from visiting their imprisoned loved ones.
  9. Prison guards are prevented from talking about any prisoners.
  10. . Amnesty International is explicitly or systematically prevented from contacting prisoners; it is explicitly or systematically prevented from discovering on what charges the prisoners are in prison; it is explicitly or systematically prevented from discovering the whereabouts of prisoners; it is explicitly prevented from locating the locations of prisons and from knowing the number of political prisoners.

If anyone is wondering now who these prisoners are (even now as I write this article), some of you might've guessed it right, yes, they are Eritrean tegadelti, patriotic Eritreans who voluntarily left their comfortable homes and families to liberate Eritrea.

But the mistreatment of prisoners is only one part of the story, because worse than the mistreatment, though some of the prisoners might not consider it worse is that, it is told that execution of prisoners was common in EPLF's prisons.

According to Teklay Aden, the former chief of EPLF's prison system, by 1978, Issayas had executed close to 3000 tegadelti. One might downplay, and for a good reason, saying, what do you expect from Teklay Aden. But his claims were supported by many individuals thus the claims and rumors cannot simply be dismissed as speculations and allegations, although one can admit that there obviously is so much exaggeration in the reports.

Some of the victims were accused of plotting to overthrow the system (Issayas), others were accused on the bases of someday in the future they might become a threat to the system (Issayas), and others were accused on the bases of someday they could be persuaded by someone else to rise against the system (Issayas). The majority of the victims are Christians.

Moreover, many also believe, in order to whitewash the traces of his crimes, Issayas Afeworki had been executing the personnel that he made instrumental in carrying out the execution of the prisoners. Again it is hard to prove or disprove such allegations but it would be a mistake to categorically dismiss them as fabrications. Something really unusual must have happened and must be happening.

According to the internal rules of the EPLF of the mid-1970s and thereafter, anyone sentenced by court marshal for execution could not be executed without the formal signature of the head of the Front. But at some point, according to Teclay Aden and other individuals, Issayas himself did not want to take the responsibility and was ignoring the court's papers put on his desk by the court for his signature. He would either let the papers collect dusts forever, or if the court inquired about the papers, he would, acting angrily, throw the papers at it. Therefore the court was being puzzled not knowing whether it should release the prisoners and bear the wrath of Issayas afterwards, or execute the inmates without requiring his signature. Eventually, according to Teklay Aden and many other individuals, the court devised a plan that would spare it from the scolding of Issayas; it started sending the "convicts" into combat raids as cannon fodders against Ethiopian garrisons, of course without hinting the inmates that they had been sentenced to death. It would send them into combat over and over until they were killed in combat, then it would list them as martyrs. Again these are allegations that could not be proved or disproved.

According to the reports from many individuals, although many ordinary "convicted" tegadelti were executed in this method, members of the politburo, or senior military or political commissars were usually executed by a fire squad but the cause of each victim's death was explained to tegadelti as the victim having committed suicide, except when Issayas saw a reason to capitalize on the victim's good name, that is, if the victim's name could be used as a bait to lure more recruits, then in such cases, the public and tegadelti were informed as the victim had been martyred heroically in combat. The latter method allowed Issayas to kill two birds with one stone: to eliminate his real or imaginary enemy, and to entice the victim's fans to cement their commitment to Issayas by following in the footstep of their martyred hero.

I ask the readers now to stop and think this: Has someone who portrayed himself as a high priest, the defender of Christians, someone who created a splinter group because he could not stand the "persecution of Christians at the hands of Moslems", been given a carte blanche to kill as many Christians as he wanted?

The Formation of a Splinter Group by Issayas Afeworki.
Was there a valid reason for Issayas to form a splinter group?
Could, the problem that Issayas had with Kiada al Ama, have been resolved through peaceful means?
Have Eritrean Christians benefitted from the front that Issayas had claimed to have formed on their behalf?
How and why did he become so popular among the Christians?
Did Issayas form a splinter group to benefit the Christians or to quench his thirst for power?

When in February of 1970, Issayas asked the leaders of ELF for a permission to go to Ala, Akeleguzai, he did not disclose to them what his real intention was. He actually expressed to them that he would come back to participate in the First National Congress for which a preparation was underway. The Congress was to discuss all the shortcomings of the Front, and possibly to devise a resolution to the concerns of many, including those of Issayas.

Then again, it soon became clear to everyone that Issayas was up to no good when, half way into his journey, he ordered two tegadelti, who happened to be Moslems, from the group of tegadelti who were assigned to accompany him to return to Barka, but continued his journey to Ala along with only the Christians whom he had chosen to accompany him.

Later on he issued an official declaration under the title of "niHnan Alaman" and made it known to the public of his intention to form his own splinter group and gave the following reasons why it was important for him to form his own front:
1. Two Christian tegadelti, Wolday Gidey and Kidane Kiflu, who were assigned to work in Kassala, Sudan, were executed by Kiada al Ama.
2. More than 50 of Christian peasants were murdered by ELF in Shimbare.
3. In the mid-1960s, more than one hundred Christian tegadelti were ordered to be killed by ELF.
Again later he broadened his reasons for forming his own front by adding a fourth reason: 4. More than 150 Christian students known by Seria Addis were executed by Kiada al Ama.

Were Christian Eritreans Persecuted Inside ELF?
In the Sixties, many Christians who joined the ELF felt mistreated by the Lowlanders though many also admitted the feeling of mistreatment felt by the Christians might have emanated from a cultural clash between the Lowlanders and the Highlanders in that many Moslems who were raised in the Highlands were also feeling the cultural clash that their Christian colleagues were experiencing, to some degree.

Still there might have been a mistreatment of the Christians by some Moslems because the Adobha conference by which Issayas was elected to be a member of the leadership (just a member, which could hardly quench his thirst for power), had also recognized the problems and thus had set out to investigate and find a rectification. Of course no one should assume all the problems and concerns of the Moslems and Christians would be resolved by one conference alone, but given enough time, through many conferences and congresses, the leaders of that time might have outgrown their mistakes. Again if the Lowlanders were really as bad to all Highlanders as Issayas was describing them, then given enough time, I say no later than by the mid-1970s, they would've changed their positions toward the Christians because they, including the misguided members of ELF, would have realized that they could not liberate all of Eritrea without the participation of the Christian Highlanders, but also, if only Issayas had sought other methods to run away from the problem, and if only Issayas had not been so obsessed with becoming a leader.

Nevertheless, Issayas's action could have been justified but only if he formed a pristine organization. But that has not been the case, in fact, it did not take him too long not only to repeat the mistakes of Jabha, but by his deeds to surpass, except in a more sophisticated way, the crimes which he had been claiming to be committed by Kiada al Ama.

Again there might have been some mistreatment of Christians by some Moslem tegadelti. For example, Memhir Wolday Kahsay, the leader of Zone Five, defected to Ethiopia when he believed that there was a mistreatment of Christians, but also when he believed he could not rectify it in his power. In my hindsight, Memhir Wolday did the right thing and furthermore in my hindsight, the Christians, the Revolution, and the nation as whole would've been better off had Issayas followed in the footsteps of Memhir Woldai Kahsay and deserted to Ethiopia. After all, Ethiopia was treating the Christians better than it was treating the Moslems, so it was not a matter of life and death that the Christians form a liberation front of their own at that time. They could have stayed with Ethiopia until the problems that Issayas was perceiving were cleared. The mistreatment the Christians experienced by the few inexperienced and misguided Moslem tegadelti could never have surpassed the sufferings that Issayas has inflicted upon the Christians in particular and the nation as a whole over the years.

Because, by forming his own splinter group, Issayas destroyed the unity of Eritreans, caused civil war to prevail, sent the Revolution into a tailspin, and also sent Ethiopia a message of hope that said Eritreans would someday self-destruct. And as far as the other two splinter groups founded by Osman Salih Sabe and the Oboleen, those factions could not succeed politically and militarily on their own unless they could dramatically change their programs, and even then, they could hardly contribute to Christian/Moslem religious polarization.

But let's assume the Lowlander tegadelti were persecuting the Christian tegadelti, or that they were showing hostility against the Christians for whatever reason. If so, forming a splinter group was hardly a way to combat such prejudice, because by running away from those Issayas had believed prejudiced against him, he also ran away from the problem.

But still the prejudice from the few misguided individuals might be justified to some degree. Firstly, every revolution movement makes mistakes in its early age. Secondly, the 1960s were the years when horrific atrocities were being committed by Ethiopia exclusively against Moslem Eritreans. Thirdly, the 1960s were also the year when Ethiopia had succeeded in its divide and rule plot in Eritrea thus recruited Christian Eritreans into its regular and militia armies to help it fight against the liberation fronts and Eritrean Moslem civilians. Fourthly, in the 1960s, the ELF was comprised of a very few educated individuals; the majority of its members had no education, no political, and cultural consciousness.

If the crimes committed by the very few uneducated and politically inexperienced individuals, whose parents were massacred and whose villages leveled to the ground with the help of some Highlanders cannot be justified, then, how could the blind followers of Issayas now justify the massacre of the heroic, disabled Liberation War veterans by Issayas in 1994.

Ok, it could be true that there might have been some prejudice from some individual Moslem tegadelti against the Christians, but still many of those who later studied the history of the 1960s could not find a trace of any organized conspiracy by Eritrean Moslems against the then minority in number Christians in ELF.

Of the reasons that Issayas pointed out for his political elopement, it was true innocent peasants were murdered in Shimbare; Kidane and Wolday were murdered, students known as Seria Addis were executed by the ELF. The exact number of the Shimbare's victims always varied, but it was believed that they were between 15 and 25, and it was told by the ELF that they were killed by vigilante off duty tegadelti of ELF, who were thought to be avenging after their village was burned by Ethiopian soldiers with the help of bherawi, a local Ethiopian militia comprised of Eritrean Christians. But the other allegations by Issayas could never be validated.

Now if Issayas wanted to use the victims of Shimbare and of Kidane and Wolday it is OK, but Issayas could not use the Christian students known by Seria Addis who were murdered by ELF as the reasons for his political elopement, as he was sometimes trying to do, because those poor souls were executed by the ELF long after Issayas had publicly declared to split. In fact, his basis of discord with Solomon Woldemariam was that Solomon who was responsible for organizing the clandestine groups and for recruiting, contrary to Issayas's long-term dreams, allowed Kiada al Ama to have access to those recruits and to transfer them from Ala to Senhit. He deprived Issayas the opportunity of using the recruits for the new front he was about to form. Issayas had long decided to split and to form his own front, long before the students were executed and had already gone by the time the students were executed. In fact as far as Issayas was concerned, he had split up from Kiada al Ama in 1969, only Kiada al Ama did not take him seriously.

The exact number of the victims known by Seria Addis, is not known, but it was believed that at sometime up to 40 students were seen in prison at Debra Sala, thus the total number of the victims, in the worst case scenario could be 40, and most likely a lot less than 40, and not 200 or 250 as was sometimes being claimed to be by Issayas. But still some who studied the case believe that Issayas himself was partially to blame for their death. The reason is that after Issayas ran away and accused all Moslems as anti Christians, he caused an atmosphere of polarization to prevail behind him in ELF, hence by the time the poor students completed their military training, tensions and misgivings had heightened between Christians and Moslems and the poor students became subjected to being in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

Having said that, since the students were murdered after the Adobha Conference, the ELF's leadership of that time failed to do a thorough investigation and get to the bottom of the case of the students and thus could not evade responsibility.

In any case, the death of these victims needs further investigation in post-Issayas Eritrea along with all the crimes that are believed to have been committed by Issayas after he formed his own front.

In conclusion, even though both Moslems and Christians have been losers as a result of all the turns and twists the revolution had to go because of the political and military fragmentation caused by Issayas, the Christians have by far lost the most, only they do not know it yet. Enchanted by his "passion for Christians", the Christians overlooked his flaws and joined his front in disproportionate a number, as a result, after Issayas eliminated the other fronts, his front took all of the burdens of military fighting against Ethiopia, because of the 65,000 that have paid with their lives for independence during the armed struggle, about 58,000 - 59,000 could be from the EPLF alone.

Also, by October 1977, in 1977, one thousand tegadelti who were involved in a political uprising in ELF fled the ELF and took refuge in EPLF. The overwhelmingly majority of them were Christians. It was told that within 12 months, by October 1978, Issayas systematically eliminated 80% of them after involving them in combats, as cannon fodders, against Ethiopian armies.

Will continue in part 15 of 24

Next, in part 15, the systematic obliteration of all Eritrean religions, family values and culture, and the installation of a regimented culture will be discussed.

Yonas Araya, contributed and has sole responsibility for the content on this page. Comments about this article you can contact the writer by e-mail: Yonas Araya





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