Free Seyoum Tsehaye

By | April 21, 2015 at 12:26 pm | No comments | Blog, News | Tags: , , ,

Following the forced closure of Eritrea’s independent press and the mass arrests of journalists and political dissidents in September 2001, PEN Canada adopted ten Eritrean writers as Honorary Members. Since then, four of these journalists have reportedly died in custody due to harsh conditions and lack of medical attention. Seyoum Tsehaye, a TV and radio journalist who wrote a weekly column for the newspaper Setit is one of the journalists who remain in prison, without charge or trial, to this day. The campaign One Day Seyoum is led by his niece, Vanessa Berhe.

One Day Seyoum

In 2001, the Eritrean government became a dictatorship. It shut down all independent newspapers, and locked up any journalists and politicians with progressive ideas. One of those journalists was my uncle Seyoum Tsehaye. Two years ago I decided to start One Day Seyoum to work for his and the other journalists’ releases. Little did I know that his story was about so much more than the fate of a couple of individuals.

Seyoum Tsehaye was imprisoned because he was considered a threat towards the Eritrean regime. He and his colleagues recognized the value and the power of journalism, and how it pushed societies towards transparency and democracy. With a pen as his only weapon, Seyoum aimed both to spread the democratic ideas that the regime feared, and to inform the world about the oppression in Eritrea. But when the free press was closed, and Seyoum and his colleagues silenced, the dictatorship was free to do as it liked — it faced no more criticism or resistance.

Eritrea is often referred to as the “North Korea of Africa” but in many ways, it is actually worse

Eritrea is considered one of the worst dictatorships in the world. Over 4,000 people flee the country each month. The country gained its independence 22 years ago but to this day there is no freedom. Nevertheless, Eritrea remains a little known country. In order to gain some recognition, it is often referred to as the “North Korea of Africa” but in many ways, it is actually worse. For the past 9 years, Eritrea has had the greatest lack of  press freedom in the entire world. The population is constantly watched and anyone who dares to speak out against the government is instantly imprisoned. All critical voices are silenced and as a result, terrible stories about human rights atrocities from the country are never heard.

That is why we are launching the “Free Eritrea” campaign today. For a whole month, we are going to do everything in our power to spread Seyoum’s story and the stories of Eritrea he would have told us about if he was free. With one man’s name and story, we aim to dismantle the cover that has been hiding the oppression that has ravaged the Eritrean people for years. We are not going to let the gag that the Eritrean regime has put on Seyoum silence him. Instead, we are going to use our freedom of expression and spread these unheard stories worldwide. We are going to prove to Seyoum that the democratic values he fought for are powerful enough to lead to not only his freedom, but also the freedom of his entire home country.

The first part of the campaign will focus on the lack of press freedom in the country. The second part of the campaign will focus on the obligatory national service, a form of slavery, that has been considered a leading cause of the mass migration of Eritrean youths. The final part of the campaign will focus on the fate of the Eritreans that flee the country.

By spreading these stories, we hope the world will recognize the seriousness of the situation in Eritrea and understand that if we all continue to do nothing, this atrocious human suffering will continue. By spreading these stories, we also want the world to understand that there is a solution. There are people in Eritrea who are capable of making a change in the country. But they have been behind bars for 13 years. Join our campaign and help us free the people who have the power to free Eritrea.

Featured image: Sara Fritzon

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