I was in bed when my wife turned on the radio to listen to the morning news. “Starting today, September 18, 2001, the government has ordered all private presses to stop their publications.” The disturbing words of the presenter of Dimtsi Hafash Radio, the government station, suddenly froze my train of thoughts. The official statement went on to accuse us of violating press laws and ignoring the warnings we had been given. I felt as if I was dreaming. I didn’t move my head. I was still under the blanket.
days, our country, jammed between
However, because we had challenged the government or its policies, we were facing increasing hostility and enduring police harassment. By September 2001, the once-united ruling elite who led us to independence with the promise of democracy split over rebel leader President Isaias Afeworki’s resistance to the fulfillment of this promise: the implementation of our constitution. We covered both sides of this debate in the columns of our newspapers.
September morning, I saw the last edition of my newspaper being sold on the
street as I drove downtown and uptown through
At our office, the staff was sitting in the front yard debating that morning’s developments.
The oldest member of our staff, and a talented writer, Fessehaye Yohannes (who is also known as Joshua) was optimistic, like most. “They just shut us down because they don’t want us to write about the jailed senior officials. They will let us continue our work once the issue is settled,” he said. I did not believe that, but I hoped he was right.
noon, I met with Matewos Habteab, editor of Meqaleh
newspaper, and Amanuel Asrat, editor of Zemen
newspaper at Rendez-Vous, a café near
As Matewos and I shared tea and Amanuel sipped an espresso macchiato, we agreed to take extra precautions and resolved to write a letter to the Ministry of Information to demand clarifications about the specific reasons for the government’s decision to close our newspapers. Medhanie Haile, deputy editor of KesteDebena, Yusuf Mohamed Ali, editor of Tsigenay, and Saïd Abdelkader, the editor of Admas, joined us and signed the letter too. Amanuel and I handed the letter to the Ministry of Information on September 21, 2001. I didn’t know it would be the last time I would see all these talented editors.
Luckily, I was not at home on September 23, the night the security agents came to arrest me. But my colleagues were arrested that night. Four of them—Fessehaye Yohannes, Yusuf Mohamed Ali, Saïd Abdelkader and Medhanie Haile—have already died in prison and we know nothing about where the rest are. That’s heartbreaking.
colleagues, I still have a chance to practice journalism.
Aaron Berhane, former editor-in-chief of