Testimony: The Torment At Gedem Prison Print E-mail
By Anon (submitted by Elsa Chyrum; translated by Awate Team) - Jun 16, 2006   

The fear that has overwhelmed the Eritrean people is so palpable, it is at a stage where not only can?t the people speak up, but they won?t even listen to those who speak on their behalf.  True, the punishment inflicted on the people by the government of Eritrea for the past 15 years has rendered the people speechless.   But this does not mean there are no brave people?we have been reading the works of the brave: male and female.  And because of the writing of these brave people, the Eritrean people know of the suffering and pain inflicted in the prisons [of Eritrea.]


I, too, having experienced Gedem Prison, am writing here, as others have, so the people will know.  Well, then, I am one of those who were expelled from Malta and sent to Eritrea at the end of 2002.  After enduring pain and suffering of a magnitude that cannot be described at Adi Abeito and Dahlak, where I was initially held, I and 100 other prisoners were transferred to Gedem Prison in 2004.  Including those whom we joined at Gedem Prison, we numbered around 400.


The Prisoners


Most of the prisoners were those [in the military] accused of being Absent Without Leave.  Because most of the youth despise the government, they were forced to seek exile in Ethiopia, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti and Malta.  This is what they call Absent Without Leave.  After a while, they took 200 prisoners from those who were with us then?to this date, nobody knows where they were taken.




Gedem is located about 40 kilometers south of Massawa.  At the time, a naval station was being built and the purpose of locating us there was to exploit the cheap, unpaid labor of the prisoners.  Since there was no machinery there, all the work was performed by the manual labor of the prisoners.   To describe the lives of the Gedem Prisoners is fairly easy.  [But to experience it] Let alone to work, even when sitting under a shade, the desert heat is hard to endure.  But to the government of Eritrea, the prisoners are not human but commodities.  It is not possible to find a government as cruel and sadistic as this one.   



Many prisoners sustained work-related injuries at Gedem.  But the government has no compassion for the prisoners.  It is a government that chooses the death of 100 prisoners over the malfunction of one machinery.  To demonstrate this, let me use an example.


An individual who was expelled by Malta and was imprisoned in Eritrea, a prisoner by the name of Amanuel Berhane, fell off a 20-meter wall and sustained a big injury in his groin area.  Nobody provided him medical care.  In the eyes of the government, he was an inferior human being.


In another incident, another individual who was expelled by Malta, a prisoner by the name of Isaias Mesfin, fell while constructing a wall and sustained a big injury. Consequently, he was paralyzed.  Nobody provided him any medical care.  As I stated, the government pays more attention to steel than to human beings.  


In another incident, a prisoner by the name of Habtom, a youth who was detained while crossing the border to Ethiopia, was assigned to work in metallurgy at the Naval base.  The metal parts fell on him and his back was broken.  He was made unconscious from the severity of the pain, but he did not get medical attention.  As I stated, human beings are considered inferior in Eritrea.


In another incident, a prisoner who was detained as he tried to cross to Saudi Arabia, reached a conclusion that the problem would never be corrected while in prison and attempted to escape.  This was an act of desperation because even if they gave one permission to leave, one cannot overcome the burning heat of the desert.  Yet, the soldiers shot and killed him, right there in the middle of the field.  A 75-year old man known as Aboy Tesfazghi, in prison accused of trying to enable his son?s desertion, was heard to exclaim: ?This is a real man. Better to attempt escape than to wait for death quietly here.?  He was cuffed and thrown to a container.


There isn?t enough paper to chronicle the brutality that goes on in Gedem Prison.


Description of the Prisons


The prisons at Gedem are constructed of corrugated tin; the prisoners have accepted a life of being baked by the heat during the day and being whipped by the cold at night.  And if they can?t endure it, they will get no mercy from the government.  The night cold penetrates deep into your bones; the day heat showers you with sweat. The clothes that you are forced to wear, jeans overalls, exacerbate the heat and the sweat and because they don?t allow you to bathe, the stench produces illnesses.  Our thighs and buttocks were peeling from the heat?we could neither sit nor sleep.  At Gedem, if you get sick, you better wait for death because medical doctors and medicine is unthinkable.   


Due to prison overcrowding, it was difficult to sleep or to sit.  Four prisoners were given one blanket to share. It is not enough to nestle, let alone to stretch in comfort.   Absent stretch room, the legs are crammed, which brings about pain that make you scream in pain.  The crowding, the heat, the open sores, the smell?all combine to make you hate being human.   


There is no Eritrean who does not know of these transgressions.  But those in Eritrea can do nothing.  They have broken their spine and demoralized them. But those in the Diaspora, those who are frightened into inaction lest they lose the homes and land they built with their dollars, those who are quietly observing the destruction of people, will have to answer to history.


A Day At Gedem


The shift begins at 4:30 AM.  We work until noon, without breakfast.  The so-called lunch is two breads and lentil stew, without pepper or oil.  That is our breakfast and our lunch.  We go back to work from 1:30 PM to 6:00 PM.  Dinner is the same: two pieces of bread and lentil stew.


Gedem Prison is like all other prisons which are proliferating in Eritrea.  There is no transgression that is out of bounds.  Human beings are debased?they cannot bathe or wash their clothes; they don?t get sufficient food; if sick, they won?t get medical attention.  There are no rights at all?people are like discarded objects.  If you get sick and cannot work, you will get no mercy: you will be beaten with a stick and made to work.  Until death relieves you, you will get no mercy while alive.

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