A rare protest in Asmara that broke the Climate of fear in Eritrea.

18/11/2017 12:59 PM

A rare protest in Asmara

by Students of Al DIA School
that broke the Climate of fear in Eritrea.

By Petros Tesfagiorgis

We are united

On 31/10/2017 the students of Al Diaa Islamic School marched from Akria to the City Centre, angered by the decision of the regime to take ownership of the school and imprison the 92 years old Haji Musa Nur, the chairman of school board, for opposing the decision. The Army used brute force to disperse the demonstration. Lots of shooting was heard throughout the area. They arrested many students and subjected them to torture.

It was a rare protest which has a historic significance. In the past the disabled war veterans marched peacefully in protest appealing to the Government to improve their poor living conditions. The protest was dispersed by shooting at them and many were killed and their demand was ignored. At other time the Asmara University Students refused to attend classes when their chairman was picked up at night from his house and jailed. They demanded his release or to be brought to the court of law. The Government agreed and a day was fixed for him to appear in court. On that day university students came in big number to the high court to attend the hearing. The Student chair did not appear in court, instead, all of a sudden Commandos clad with Kalashnikov and buttons jumped out of Lorries and started aggressively beating the students and threw them at the back of the Lorries. I was watching the crowd from a window of the Commercial Bank of Eritrea where I was assigned to work. I could not believe my eyes. The cruelty of the army horrified the residents of Asmara. But at the same time it was done deliberately to pacify the population and create an atmosphere of fear and indifference when the population are subjected to gross human rights violations.

Soon, the University administration circulated a notice giving an order to all the students who stayed at home to come to the university the next day, which they did. They drove them all to a place called WIA along the red sea coast. In WIA the temperature was above 40 degree centigrade and 2 students died of sunstroke. The worst was to come on 18 September 2001 president Isaias Afwerki imprisoned 11 high ranking Government officials known as the G-15. They haven’t done anything illegal – in the meeting of the central committee they demanded the overdue PFDJ congress to take place, allow the formation of political parties so they can participate in the all-out general election expected to take place at the end of 2001. At the same time the editors of all private papers were imprisoned ending freedom of expression.

That day, 18-09-2001, marked the darkest day in Eritrea. The entire population was gripped by sadness and fear. Next day, in the morning, there were no private papers to buy and read. As I walk along the streets I could only see sad faces of people with looks of defeat. Since then fear was entrenched in the body politics of Eritrea and to come out to the streets to protest was unthinkable. Unopposed, the regime began to subject the population to religious persecution, arbitrary imprisonment, disappearance and forced /slave labour. Al these cruelty gave rise to the influx of huge number of refugees to exile.

The AL Diaa students demonstrated at the risk of their life. They knew they will be imprisoned, tortured and even killed but they decided to take the risk. In contrast, the case of Orthodox, Catholic and Pentecostal was different. It is not that the church leaders did not resist. They did resist the interference of the regime in religious affairs but they ended up in prison. They were brave. For example the Christian Orthodox Patriarch who has been in prison for 14 years and Pastor Fitsum the only psychiatrist in Eritrea were incarcerated. The problem was their congregation and the public at large did not protest for their release. They maintained silence out of fear and those arrested are left alone defenceless to languish in the awful dungeons of the regime where some are in chains. The AL Diaa student’s demonstration has a special historical significance of bravado, for they broke the climate of fear. In this critical time when Eritrea is the fastest depleting country of its people, the demonstration is a light of hope. Inspired, the Diaspora rose up in demonstration expressing their solidarity with the students. We have never seen like this before. In Sweden there was one Christian woman holding the picture of Haji Musa and on her left and right two Moslem women each holding the picture of the Imprisoned Orthodox Patriarch. It is an expression of love and respect to the selfless and committed student demonstrators in Asmara. This was a message to the repressive regime that they cannot succeed to divide the two brotherly communities by labelling the demonstration instigated by Muslim extremists. The regime’s evil intention of “divide-et- Empera” to prolong the reign of terror is frustrated. In London alone there were 3 protests. On 3/11/17 and on 10/11/17 in front of the Eritreans Embassy and on 4/11/2017 at Downing street in front of the Office of the Prime Minister. There were demonstrations in Sweden, Rome and in New York on 3/11/2017. There were also protests in Germany, Egypt, Norway, California, Seattle, Washington and many other places.

It was not only protests but lots of supportive comments in face books tweeters and other social Media. The most outspoken was Reverend Yohannes Ghebrehiwot of Medhanie Alem Christian Orthodox Church in Manchester UK who delivered a speech in support of the protestors and praising Haji Musa as daring hero and an exemplary father. He explained in detail the repression taking place against his Orthodox Church as well.

The selfless and risky demonstration presents the diaspora with formidable challenge to put their acts together and collaborate in various critical activities to end repression in Eritrea.

As one activist tweeted. “I am concerned after the situation cools down people will go back to their routine and not bother to collaborate with determination and commitment in future activities. First there is a need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of solidarity protests and put out an action plan to maintain the momentum.

Well thought plan on how to collaborate in the following critical issues are timely. These are subject to debate to create understanding among the different fragmented justice seekers.

To campaign rigorously to give protection to refugees. Put pressure to EU who has a policy change that denies refugees asylum. To lobby foreign governments to put pressure on the Eritreans regime to condemn and end the repression.

For the lobbies to be effective organised peace movement is essential.

Although peace campaign has already started between Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia and their Ethiopians counterparts, the Diaspora in the West have an advantage. They can get help from International organisations because peace movement is appealing. It addresses the present acute problem in Africa and the Middle East.


By Petros Tesfagiorgis

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