Like many twelve-year-old children, Tedros Abraham had a dream of what he wanted to be when he grew up – a journalist. He dreamed of being a journalist just like the ones he used to watch on TV. Little did he know that his dream would mean he would be imprisoned three times, make four attempts to escape Eritrea and face death and deportation in the Sudan.
This is his story…
The start of a dream
Tedros’ dream began with founding a school newspaper. Nothing out of the ordinary about that, you might say, but in Eritrea it just seemed bizarre! Confounding his critics, Tedros and his high school colleagues started the monthly publication from nothing and became role models for other students. Tedros was on the path he dreamed of.
In May 2000, he joined the largest independent newspaper in Eritrea and met many of the courageous journalists who had inspired him as a child. Not only that, but he relished and looked forward to the freedom that the 30 years’ war of independence with Ethiopia was all about.
“It was that time that I had been dreaming of, when I felt I had begun to enjoy my freedom, and I was thrilled. But, sadly, it was only the beginning of the end.”
“Now, after eight painful years, where are my colleagues?”
In 2001, all independent media outlets were closed and several journalists were indefinitely detained, along with eleven ruling party members who had called for democratisation. Arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention are now commonplace.
Many of Tedros’ colleagues were arrested and imprisoned during this time. His colleague and mentor died in prison as a result of torture wounds. One well-known writer and photographer was conscripted into the army against his will for more than nine years and was one of four journalists recently detained. The fate of journalists working at other newspapers was the same.
“I know nothing except the fact that they are incarcerated in an underground prison of Iraero, a desert prison whose temperature could reach well over 50 degrees centigrade. At the moment more than thirty journalists, including those who were working with the government, are languishing behind bars, which makes Eritrea the world’s largest jailer of journalists according to Reporters without Borders ranking. The only crime they have committed was speaking the truth.”
Facing death… and into exile
“I was imprisoned three times and miraculously released, and I made four failed attempts to cross the border, until I succeeded the fifth time. I barely escaped death and deportation to my country when I was in the Sudan. Many of my colleagues whom I left behind are in extremes of suffering in the refugee camps and cities of Ethiopia and Sudan.
I am now exiled in Norway and became a member of the Association of Eritrean journalists in exile. Even today I am still keeping my dream alive, a dream to see justice prevailing over injustice in my home country, which is in utter devastation. But this time, I will not only dream but fight for it, using my pen as a weapon.”