Drs. Tsegezab Gebregergis
Some fifty-years ago, the Eritrean people embarked on the path to liberate themselves from Ethiopian colonial rule. In doing so, the Eritrean people had hoped to live in an independent Eritrea under democratic governance, accountability and the rule of law. After more than 30 years of bloody war for national independence, on May 1991, the Eritrean freedom fighters succeeded in kicking out the occupying Ethiopian army and de facto independence was attained.
In other words, Eritrea was physically liberated from the fangs and claws of Ethiopian military occupation after thirty years of stiff resistance by the gallant Eritrean freedom fighters on May 24 1991. There was great joy, jubilation and a mood of euphoria aroused by Eritrean independence and the entry of the freedom fighters to the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
May 24 is therefore a sacred day for all Eritreans now and for all the years to come. In other words, in principle, Eritrean Independence Day ought to be celebrated by all Eritrean patriots.
Unfortunately, the joy and euphoria of the Eritrean people was, however, soon dashed when the EPLF/PFDJ-led government betrayed the aspirations of the Eritrean people to live in a democratic society and established instead a full-fledged dictatorship. This became a harsh reality after the EPLF/PFDJ generals were heavily emasculated in the 1998-2000 war, which erupted between Eritrea and Ethiopia under the pretext of border conflict.
The Aspirations of the Eritrean people were betrayed/ dashed
As already stated, when the Eritrean people embarked some fifty years ago on the path to liberate themselves from Ethiopian colonial rule, they had hoped to secure freedom of expression, the right to democratic elections and the right to participate freely and fully in the affairs of their country without fear of reprisal from their leaders. All these noble hopes were, however, shattered once the reins of power were taken by the EPLF/PFDJ and a one-party state was established in independent Eritrea.
Much to the dismay of the Eritrean people, independent Eritrea is today under the firm rule of an unenlightened, despotic and repressive dictator who has open contempt for the rule of law, for the Eritrean people and for their traditions and culture. Indeed, the PFDJ regime is in violation of Article 17 of the Eritrean Constitution, ratified in 1997, regarding Fundamental Rights, Freedoms and Duties pertaining to Arrest, Detention and Fair Trial. Contrary to these provisions, there are today hundreds of Eritrean democrats and other patriots languishing in prisons without charge and without trial in independent Eritrea.
An example of the repressive nature of the PFDJ-led Eritrean regime is the arrest and imprisonment of 11 Eritrean government officials, students and journalists without charge and trial. Why are these people being held? What are their crimes?
The crimes of the G-15 reformers are nothing other than to have stood and argued strongly for the implementation of the Eritrean Constitution without further delay, including the urgent formation of political parties and the holding of democratic elections.
In other words, with the emergence of the opposition group known as the G-15, and the independent-minded journalists opposed to PFDJ dictatorship, eventually imprisoned on September 18 2001, the PFDJ dictatorship was fully consolidated and became deeply entrenched in Eritrea. As a result, all hopes of living in a democratic society, which respects the human rights of the Eritrean people, vanished overnight and Eritrea became a big prison camp for the Eritrean people. In short, Eritrea became a police state.
What is more, as a consequence of the introduction of forced and open-ended military service, arbitrary and inhuman detention practices, a denial of human rights and religious freedom and rampant unemployment, coupled with the existence of “alluring” refugee camps, constructed by the Ethiopian government to lure young Eritreans to abandon their country, Eritreans began to flee and to undertake hazardous journeys via the Libyan and Sinai deserts to get to Israel and Europe in search of peace and freedom. Indeed, the youth in their thousands are leaving the country every month and some of them have become the victims of Egyptian Bedouin criminals in the Sinai and Libyan deserts who extract and extort from their victims’ families tens of thousands of hard dollars.
In other words, the oppressor government of Eritrea has betrayed the social and economic emancipation of the oppressed Eritrean people, for which thousands of Eritrean heroes were martyred. This dictatorial regime is following a confused, antagonistic and aggressive foreign and domestic policy which endangers Eritrean security and the unity of its people. The regime is violating fundamental human and political rights by denying the Eritrean people freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression, free elections, the formation of independent political parties opposed to its absolute rule, participation in their own government and a free press as well as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in an open court of law.
What is more, the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE) is still provisional. It is an illegitimate regime because it is not established through the consent of the Eritrean people. It has imprisoned and is imprisoning thousands of Eritreans without any due process of law.
Should Eritreans Seeking Justice be Part of a Dancing and Drinking Celebration?
As I have already attempted to show, in the last twenty-five years, under the oppressive rule of Issayas Afeworki,, Eritrea and its people have suffered silently in the firm grip of a police state which actively spies on its own population. Yes indeed, as in Nazi Germany and other totalitarian states, the police state in Eritrea has been ruling through the use of open terror and all public places are infiltrated by the oppressive security personnel of the state. Thus, the people in Eritrea, whether they are eating in restaurants, whether they are in their homes, or whether they are walking and talking in other public places, are always under the watchful eyes of the police state. Crudely robbed of their fundamental rights and freedoms by the barbaric PFDJ regime, Eritreans have lost the meaning of Eritrean independence. The joy and euphoria of May 24, 1991 has been replaced by anger, frustration, sadness, and depression.
Today Eritrea is going downhill in front of our eyes; its youthful population is disappearing every day and the intellectual members of its society that would have been at the forefront in the building the economy of the country. The PGE still does not care and talks about bringing in foreigners to replace the Eritrean teachers and other skilled Eritreans who might have left the country.
In short, Eritrea under the repressive rule of the PFDJ has become an open prison for the Eritrean people. In such a politically unacceptable situation, it would thus be politically undesirable and inappropriate for Eritreans struggling for justice and democracy to take part in dancing and drinking celebrations as the supporters of the government do every passing year.
It is thus my strong view that during May 24 and 25 2016, instead participating in dancing and drinking celebrations, we should hold public meetings everywhere, reflect back and discuss thoroughly what has gone so wrong for a fascist dictatorship to have become deeply entrenched in Eritrea.
After all is said and done, we Eritreans never give- up; we are very optimists and we shall bring new life to our country through our own efforts and struggle.