By T Stephanos, August 29, 2007
People have been disappearing in Eritrea since the dawn of independence. Bitwoded and the Keren teachers are but few examples. Although the net of lawlessness was cast way before the 1998 war, the regime bared its fangs on September 18, 2001 with the arrest of former government officials and the shutting down of the emerging private press.
What unraveled on September 18th still continues unabated today. Anyone the regime dislikes - be it an octogenarian Patriarch of the Orthodox church, bright-eyed high school students or anyone in between– is abused and thrown in jail without due process. What makes this regime's crimes more heinous is that the incarcerated are denied visitation rights from anyone making it impossible to know if the victims are even alive. This is unfathomable in independent Eritrea because visitation rights where not even denied during the Dergue's rule.
Unless we force the regime to release those it unjustly continues to incarcerate, September 18th has the potential of rendering both Bahti Meskerem and May 24 th totally meaningless. But how do you force a mindless regime that seems to have no soul or heart to do anything good? First, we need to withdraw our support until it releases all the prisoners. If the will is there, the people and not the regime, has full control of how much support the regime gets. We owe it to our brothers and sisters who have so far been condemned to a miserable and voiceless life. Can we be their voice in this darkest hour where no light of freedom shines in so-called "independent" Eritrea?
At the very least, whatever support we are willing to give to the regime, it should be made conditional to the release of the prisoners. Mass imprisonment of innocent people, creating miserable conditions that make young people believe exile is the best alternative and intentionally creating a lawless environment on top of an otherwise law-abiding culture, will weaken even the strongest of nations. How can Eritrea be strong and viable when its people are terrorized, impoverished and under-educated?
As this sad day approaches, regardless of our political leanings, the innocent prisoners should remain on top of our minds. This wrong must be righted. Freeing the prisoners is a necessary first step towards Eritrea's healing process. Rallying for their freedom can and should be a uniting cause in order to reclaim a country that has been hijacked away from its rightful destiny. Let us reverse the damages done by September 18th so that Bahti Meskerem and May 24th will be worth celebrating.