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Eritrea: Ali Abdu pleads ignorance of Dawit Isaac's fate

Ali Abdu, Eritrea's longtime information minister, has gone into exile, his brother has confirmed. (YouTube)

On Wednesday, the Swedish newspaper Expressen published what it described as an exclusive interview with Ali Abdu--Eritrea's long-time information minister, government spokesman, and censor-in-chief--who vanished from public view in November. The piece confirmed that Ali had gone into exile, but it shed no light on the whereabouts and well-being of more than two dozen imprisoned journalists.

The newspaper actually communicated with Ali's brother, Saleh Younis, who said he was speaking for the former minister; most journalists said the report appeared to be credible. Ali, 47, was a close confidante of President Isaias Afewerki and for many years managed the country's tightly controlled system of news and information. The government shut down the country's private press in a September 2001 crackdown on dissent, and eventually barred all international journalists as well. All news is provided through state media. CPJ considers Eritrea the most censored country in the world.

The Red Sea nation also holds 28 journalists in secret prisons, according to CPJ research. These journalists, some held now for more than a decade, were never charged with crimes or put on trial. As the years have passed, less and less has been known of their fates; unconfirmed reports say several have died. Over the years, Ali repeatedly dismissed or ignored international inquiries about their fates.

The interview specifically addressed the case of Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaac, co-founder of Setit, once Eritrea's largest newspaper. Ali, incredibly, claimed that neither he nor other members of the government have any knowledge of the fates of the jailed journalists, Saleh recounted for the paper.

In a subsequent column on his news site Gedab News, Saleh also sought to absolve his brother of responsibility. "If the entire journalistic staff of Expressen was to interview [Eritrean government cabinet ministers] for days, weeks, months; if they were to water-board them, they would not be able to get a single useful information on the whereabouts of Dawit Isaac or any of the thousands of Eritreans who have been made to disappear," he wrote. Saleh asserted that the Eritrean government operated on oral orders without any paper trail; security forces carrying out arrests had no knowledge of who they were picking up; and guards had no idea how long inmates would be in custody.

Yet in November 2005, after Dawit Isaac was briefly set free from years of secret detention without trial, Ali told Agence France-Presse that the journalist would be returned to prison, describing the release as a temporary leave for medical tests. In 2007, Ali confirmed to CPJ reports that one of his employees, TV presenter Paulos Kidane, had died while attempting to escape the country. Ali declined to say how Paulos died, leaving unaddressed wide speculation that the journalist was shot by Eritrean border guards.

Former state news media employees, who form one of the largest diasporas of exiled journalists in the world, do not believe the former minister. "I am sure he has detailed information; he knows who is dead and who is alive, but he is trying to set himself free by shouldering the blame to the president," Aaron Berhane, once the editor-in-chief of Setit, told CPJ. "Ali knows very well the whereabouts of Dawit Isaac and the rest of the journalists."

Esayas Isaac, who has launched a tireless campaign to free his brother Dawit, is understandably frustrated. "After 11 years waiting for answers, you feel angry, you feel frustration," he said. Ali's obfuscation may be due to the fact that his own family is now in prison. After he left the country, Eritrean authorities arrested his father, teenage daughter, and brother, according to news reports.

The imprisonment of family members has meant that Ali Abdu shares the same sort of anguish that Esayas Isaac has long endured. "I actually hope Ali Abdu now understands the situation better since he has members of his own family in prison," Esayas said. Esayas says that despite his anger, he is willing to build a relationship with Ali if the former minister agrees to help him find his brother.

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Comments

Ali was like the son of the dictator, he knows a 100% about the whereabouts of the prisoners.

In Eritrea these kind of information is transferred through friends in key places. Now Ali mightn't have been in the team of security officials who officially know the whereabouts, but HE DEFINITELY HAS FRIENDS IN THE SECURITY WHO WOULD TELL HIM.

WE HAVE A SAYING, "IF YOU HAVE ONES SEEN A THIEF STEALING, YOU WOULDN'T TRUST HIM EVEN WHEN HE IS RETURNING IT BACK"

ALI HAS AS MUCH ENEMIES IN THE PUBLIC AS WITH THE PEOPLE IN POWER. FOR ONE THING, HE WAS MUCH LIKED BY THE PRESIDENT AND USED AS AN INSIDER [AS THE PRESIDENT MOSTLY DOES TO DIVIDE AND CONQUER HIS CABINET] THE OTHER MINISTERS CALLED ALI "THE KID" AND DIDN'T HAVE MUCH RESPECT FOR HIM. ISAYAS USED THIS VERY WELL.
HE WAS A HATED FIGURE BEFORE, AND NOW ONLY MADE A FEW MORE ENEMIES.

Who would believe such feeble report?

Ali would never say anything as his hands are as tainted as any one of them. It is no secrete that he himself was a little dictator!! Those who knew him and worked with him know that.

Anyways, why about "Dawit" ONLY? when it is no secret about the staggering number of prisoners in Eritrea: journalists and others.

Ali was a member of numerous secretive committees through which he was passing death, torture and long term imprisonment sentences to Eritreans and other countries’ citizens.

Is it not amazing to even think the killer and the killed are both seeking asylum... It sounds like he is seeking asylum from himself

What a jock!!

Ali Abdu is an accomplice in crime. It is sad and hypocritical to see his brother trying to protect him. Mr. Younis (his brother) was the first to point finger towards chiristian apologists or even suspected supporters of the regime. Now, the true personality comes out. His position was never borne out of principle. His loyalty to tribe and religion supersedes any principled opposition to the regime.

From awate.com to awate.com?
Who is Saleh Younis? Is he the same Saleh AA Youis who was fanatical supporter of the Eritrean Government and overnight transformed into practically fanatical opponent of any patriotic Eritrean? Is he the same Saleh AA Youis who along with Saleh Johar (Gede) that practically run awate.com, the anti Eritrean website? If so, why awate.com seems to be accidentally discovering its own article in a Swedish tabloid newspaper (written by a person named Kassem Hamade strangely reporting from Beirut) and ‘Google translate’ into vague English? How convenient. Wouldn’t it have been better for Younis to post his own article on awate.com rather than sending the article on a roundtrip voyage around the world?
Yesterday Kassem confirmed to VOA (Voice of America) Tigrigna Service that he never spoke to Ali Abdu but only “his brother” Saleh Younis (I never knew Ali Abdu and Saleh Younis were related). Minia Afwerqi of VOA phoned Saleh Younis (who lives in the USA) to verify the story. Guess what? Younis turned down the offer. So as far as we know, there was no so-called Ali Abdu’s “exclusive interview with Expressen”. All we have is Kassem conversation with an alleged “spokesperson” to Ali Abdu over the phone. Why would the spokesperson of a country (who is fluent in English, Arabic, Amharic, Tigrigna to mention few) require a spokesperson to speak for himself? Now the alleged “spokesperson” (i.e. Saleh Younis) would not even confirm he had the conversation with Kassem. So could the whole story of Ali Abdu’s “defection” turnout to be as “authentic” as the story of the death of President Isaias (which was also reported by awate.com and its satellite websites)? Only time will tell.


Ali Abdi assumes the full responsibility on selecting journalists to go to prison. Since he is the one that called the security to put the journalist to go to jail or to be eliminated. The man of the year of the Ethiopian review 2009. Shame on him he did not hesitate to get rid of the journalists working for him...

awate u are gihadist trying to divid eritrean people oredy we learn allot

Meharena said it all!
Thank you Meharena

CPJ, you should really change the title to Ali Abdu's brother claims Ali's ignorance on Dawit Isaac's fate...

http://awate.com/expressen-gets-its-wrong/

Ali Abdu is responsible for his actions anywhere he goes....should be jailed

Ali Abdu is kidnapped by the enemies of Eritrea. They are trying to make it look like he has defected. He is a soldier and will die as one.

Wetru awet n' Hafash.