Bitweded Abraha was one of the outstanding figures of Eritrea’s Liberation Struggle.
He was a born leader. He believed in grass roots democracy and freedom for all that should not be silenced. His deepest belief has always been in the unique value of each individual. That was why everyone loved and respected him.
In the war to liberate Eritrea from the Ethiopian yoke, his role was vital. He was not just a powerful fighter: he lived by his beliefs, and showed his values in how he treated other people. And, in the struggle, his powerful personal qualities were recognised. From as early as 1973, when he joined the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front, his talented leadership was recognised, and not just by the younger generation, with whom he was extremely popular. From being Political Commissar, he was rapidly appointed to posts such as Head of Transport Department, Officer in charge of Military Supplies, Practical Administrator of the Port of Assab. But his true vocation shone out in his role as Deputy Head of Department of Education. His vital campaigns raising awareness of the need for education and to eradicate illiteracy were so powerful because they encouraged understanding, human respect, self-reliance and taking personal responsibility. He was a genius at motivating young people!
So why have most of us never heard of this hero?
Because, above all, Bitweded is courageous. He is the type of person who speaks his mind and does not easily bow his head before authority, especially if he thinks it is a matter of justice or true loyalty to his country. It was this admirably strong character trait that put him in conflict with Issayas Afwerki, Eritrea’s unelected president. When Bitweded spoke out about the leader’s dictatorial tendencies, his fate was sealed and he was falsely accused and detained. Apart for a few weeks temporarily at liberty, Bitweded has been in prison since 6 October 1991, and, since 1994, *has been held in solitary confinement.
But, you ask, what is the crime for which he was convicted?
- He has never been charged.
- He has never had his case heard in a court of law.
- He has never been convicted of any offence.
His innocence cries out for justice…. But in silence, for no one hears; no one knows.
For he is silenced, in a remote prison cell.
He sees no one; and he speaks to no one.
That is how Eritrea treats its outstanding national hero.
Will no one speak out for him?
Will the world remain silent for another 26 years?
Who will join us in attesting to this crime against every principle of human rights?
And who will protest on behalf of this innocent man?