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
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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
provided him medical care. In the eyes of the
government, he was an inferior human
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
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
As I stated, human beings are considered inferior 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.
isn?t enough paper to chronicle the brutality that goes on in
of the Prisons
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.
to prison overcrowding, it was difficult to sleep or to
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.
is no Eritrean who does not know of these transgressions.
But those in
Eritrea can do
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.
Day At Gedem
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.
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
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