In a recent Africa Express article by an Italian journalist Massimo Alberizzi about the attack on Yemane Gebreab (the Eritrean president’s advisor) and Fessehazion Petros (the Eritrean ambassador in Rome), the author condemns the attack whilst highlighting that it is the inhumane practices of the Eritrean government itself that precipitated this outburst of violence. The two men were attacked in the streets of Rome on the evening of 6 July 2017.
In his article, Alberizzi mentions the kidnapping and assassination attempt on him by Yemane Gebreab whilst he was working and reporting in Somalia. Albreizzi writes (our translation):
“I can no longer visit Eritrea after you’ve had me arrested and a few months later you sentenced me to death for my article which criticised your transformation: from freedom fighters to bloody dictators.
Yes, Yemane, I could go to the authorities here in Italy, denounce you and inform them that you, the man who ended up in hospital in Rome, is the one who ordered my kidnapping in Somalia, where I escaped execution only because I knew those who were to be my assassins… but you and your friends scolded them [the Somalis] because they let me go. Now I hear that you are in Italy with your head smashed, and when you leave the hospital (assuming you’re still hospitalised) you’ll return to Eritrea. To slaughter the youth again? To prevent them from leaving the country? The propaganda of your regime emphatically maintains that everything is good in Eritrea, that it’s all perfect, but you, and we, know very well that that is not true.”
Like many of us, Alberizzi is aware of what can happen to Eritreans returned to their country, especially to someone who attacks the regime either verbally of physically. He writes:
“Now I fear for those who attacked you. If they send them to Eritrea they’ll be sentenced to death. Naturally after a good dose of cruel tortures, so they can serve as example to other dissidents. They must not be sent back to Africa.”
Alberizzi had in the past pleaded with ambassador Fessehazion Petros to abandon the regime and ask for asylum in Italy. He had pledged to Fessehazion that he would defend him if he did so. He extends the same invitation to Yemane Gebreab, asking him to denounce the wrongdoings of the Eritrean regime, writing “Yemane, go on; you should escape too”
In an interview with German radio Deutschlandfunk in 2015, Yemane Gebreab claimed that Eritreans in Eritrea can criticise the government openly and loudly, but the reality is that one of the main driving forces for the Eritrean mass migration is precisely that they cannot speak out in public, for fear of experiencing arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance.
Whilst it is known that the group of ministers and high-level government officials were arrested in 2001, shortly after openly criticising the president and the ruling party’s direction, Yemane Gebreab insisted in the same interview that they had not been imprisoned for criticising the government or the president. Rather, he said, they were detained because they conspired with the enemy at the height of the 1998-2000 war and their actions led to the deaths of many Eritreans and jeopardized the survival and independence of the country. According to Gebreab, the imprisoned journalists were also part of this conspiracy. These allegations notwithstanding, Yemane Gebreab denies any knowledge of their wellbeing or of whether they are alive or not. Often called ‘the second in command’, Yemane Gebreab confirmed that they were detained in Eiraeiro, but denied that he had seen them or ever been to that prison.
When questioned about the secrecy surrounding the detention of the G11 (the group of 11 parliamentarians arrested in September 2001), Yemane Gebreab confirmed that they had a trial without legal representation, but he asserted “they could have been court martialed… I believe Eritrea should be commended for how it dealt with this issue, because there could have been other ways of dealing with it”. Sadly, Yemane Gebreab seems to believe not using ‘other ways’ in itself is commendable; he boasts “we handled this issue very well”.
As HRCE has pointed out in the past and Alberizzi states in his latest article, it is the oppressive violation of human rights and the regime’s brutal ways of treating its citizens that are driving Eritreans to leave their country. Yemane Gebreab’s regular visits to Europe, USA and elsewhere are part of a propaganda and lobbying campaign by the Eritrean government focused on persuading the Eritrean diaspora community and international organisations of its positive policies and actions. Eritreans who flee have to live with the manipulation of their community in exile by the same people who forced them to leave their homes.
The events surrounding the recent assault have given rise to speculation that Yemane Gebreab’s excursions abroad may sometimes be arranged using pseudonyms; the Italian newspaper Il Corriere initially reported the incident in Rome as having involved the Eritrean ambassador and his driver, which it identified as a certain Baroui Okbei. It was nevertheless later leaked that the man with a fractured jaw and trauma on the skull was indeed Yemane Gebreab. When the news first broke though ansa.it,, it was reported that it was an ambassador’s aide who had suffered the head injuries. The newspaper la Republica stated it was the ambassador’s collaborator, but both la Repubblica.it and ansa.it did not name the person. Hence the speculation that Yemane Gebreab may not have entered the country in the regular manner.
Yemane Gebreab, a high-level member of the Eritrean government and the sole ruling party whose officials stand accused of crimes against humanity, has in his own words admitted that he and his party have detained and sentenced the G11 without due legal process. He finds nothing strange about their incommunicado detention in Eiraeiro prison and shows no concern about their conditions. Contrary to his claims, not all members of the G11 were military officials during the 1998 war. A man who has committed grave human rights violations in his own country and has ordered international kidnappings and assassinations is a danger to the Eritrean people and also to members of the international community. All measures should be taken to detain him and hold him accountable for his crimes.
The persons detained over the incident have only been accused. They have not been sentenced yet, but whatever the outcome in the Italian courts of justice, they should not be repatriated to Eritrea. We echo Alberizzi’s conviction that they will be tortured and murdered the moment they reach their country of origin.