Eritrea, letter to political prisoners: “I want my daddy back”


Our Special Correspondent
Makeda Saba
London, 1st May 2015

Letter to Political Prisoners
Prisoner No 10 Eiraro Eritrea Seyoum Tsehaye
One of 11 Eritrean Journalists arrested in September 2001

My dearest friend Seyoum,
Unfortunately, Eritrea has become the North Korea of Africa because we have forgotten that:
We have not been vigilant. Our situation can best be summed us as follows:

First they came for the Students, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Student.

Then they came for the G15, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a member of the G15.

Then they came for the Journalists, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Journalist

Then they came after the Surveyors and the Architects, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Surveyor or an Architect

Then they came for the Jehovah witness and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jehovah witness.

Then they came for the Protestants and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Protestant

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


Many of us are not silent anymore. In the face of so much suffering and sorrow we have found our voices – we must now find the courage to once again trust each other and come together with a new agenda for our country.

Dear Seyoum, your daughters and your nice are among these new voices. You should see your daughters Abie and Belula as well as your nice Vanessa. They are living outside of Eritrea. I see them on the internet and on YouTube. Your daughters and your nice are working with other young Eritreans such Bethelem Isaack (daughter of Dawit Isaack). They have established an organisation called One Day Seyoum. (

One Day Seyoum is working towards freedom for journalist and prisoner of conscience. The aim is to make a difference not only for your case but also for all those who are suffering in Eritrea because of the absence of democracy[i]

This year the One Day Seyom team have launched the # Free Eritrea campaign for the period of 21 April 2015 to 24 May 2015.  (Twitter: #FreeEritrea). There are three stages to the campaign:

21st April  to  03rd May  2015            focus on the  violation of the right of  freedom of speech
04th May to 13th May 2015                focus on the national  service, which is nationally organised form of slavery and is often pointed out as the main reason as to why  thousands of people   flee Eritrea every month
14th May to 24th May 2015               focus on the large number of Eritreans that flee the country.

They are asking President Isaias Afewerki and the People Front of Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party:
Where are our Fathers?[ii] [iii]

In 2013 your daughter Abie Seyom, then 14 years old, gave a speech at the UN Assembly she said:

“My name is Abie Seyoum, and I am 14 years old. Like every Eritrean child, my surname is my father’s first name. My father is Seyoum Tsehaye. Like his entire family during the Ethiopian occupation, he volunteered in the struggle for the independence of Eritrea. He made photographs and films. He was the director of the television once my country was freed.


I have not seen him since September 2001. I was two years old. He was arrested with the reformists and the Eritrean journalists during major raids ordered by our government. One of the only memories I have of him is a video. In this film, he plays with me. He loved children. My little sister Belula was born while he was in jail. She does not know our father, but like me she knows he is still alive somewhere in prison in Eritrea. For twelve years.

We were told that my father is being held in Eiraeiro, a high security prison in the mountains. In the cells around his, friends of his are also detained. But he has no right to talk to them. Journalists, soldiers, politicians. Heroes of Eritrea, like him, who gave their lives for the freedom of my people. We do not know who is still alive, who is dead. The Eritrean government refuses to say where the prisoners are, why they are trapped, and in what state they are. Before fleeing the country, my mother was jailed when she asked.

We fled Eritrea, my mother, my sister and me. Not because we do not love our country. But to save our lives. To live our lives without fear of sharing my father’s fate.

Today, I stand before you on behalf of all the children of Eritrean prisoners. All are named after their father, like me. We want to know what happened to our fathers, our mothers. We want to know why our government inflicts this suffering on us. When my sister and I went to see the Eritrean ambassador in Paris to give him a letter and ask him questions, he called the police. We do not know what to do.

So we turn to you. You’re our only hope. There are Eritrean diplomats at the UN and in many capitals of your respective countries. The Government of Eritrea has been recognized by the international community that you represent.

bimbo dietro reticolato 600

So on behalf of all the prisoners’ children, I ask you one thing. Turn to the representatives of the Eritrean government. Turn to them and ask them the question they do not want to answer: “Where are the prisoners? What have you done to them? And why? Release them. Give them back to their families.”

I want my father back. Belula and I, we want our name back. Help us, please”

You would be proud of them.  Though our lives have separated and I do not know your daughters and niece personally I am proud of them and I will add my voice to theirs.

Dear Seyoum I have recently visited Police Station No2 in Asmara. The guards at the gate recognised me and asked why I was not dropping by anymore? – I replied that they had moved my friends (you and the other journalists) so I had no reason to visit. They laughed. I laughed  looked at the gate  where I last  saw you  standing and  thought  that if you had  heard the conversation  you would have appreciated  the  bitter sweet irony .

One day Seyoum we will meet again
One day Seyoum we will once again work together to rescue children in difficulty
One day Seyoum we will drink cappuccino in Bar Vittoria
One day Seyoum …we will once again travel to Senafe – you talking to everybody and photographing the Sycamore trees, and the Obelisk while you are telling me not to worry about the landmines

One day Seyoum  #FreeEritrea
I will write again soon
Your Friend

Makeda Saba

See also:

The Fate of the September 2001 Victims


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