12 February 1975 the ELF liberated 700 prisoners from Sembel and 300 prisoners from the notorious prison in Adi Khualla.The operation was organized and coordinated by Martyr Saeed Saleh who was killed by an EPLF assassination squad in 1983.
The event was adequately narrated at its 5th anniversary in issue No .39 of The Eritrean Newsletter (of the ELF) of 1980 in a form of an interview conducted by Woldeyesus Ammar with Martyr Woldedawit Temesghen. The story Woldedawit told in that interview about the prisoner release operation and the life of political prisoners in the 60s and 70s is so important part of our modern history and its continued struggle that this webstite wished to present it today for wider reading, including the new generation.
Woldedawit Temesghen and Seyoum Ogbamichael joined the ELF as teenagers and it was at the tender age (in the range of 18-20 years) that they became part of Eritrea’s growing population of political prisoners in 1965.
In the interview reproduced below, Woldedawit (was killed by EPLF thugs in Kassala in 1985) tells many interesting accounts like the following:
· 11 political prisoners that were scheduled to be executive on 15 February 1975 were saved because the ‘Great Escape’ occurred three days earlier on 12 February.
· Woldedawit estimated that he and Seyoum could have talked politics to more than 25,000 short- and long-term prisoners between August 1965 and their release in February 1975.
· “We were dubbed double traitors – of the Christian [faith] and of “mother” Ethiopia...Our host in the Central Prison was the notorious murderer Major Tecle who christened us with epithets like ‘the Two Danger Boys’ ... I remember the day we were taken to the Central Prison, [Major Tecle] personally asking us our religion and occupation. We [Seyoum and I] answered: “religion, Christians, occupation – freedom fighters.” He then ordered his secretary to register: ‘Religion: Moslems. Occupation: bandits! ‘”
· The ordeal political prisoners faced in the 1960s and 1970s included: “locking us in morgues for several days in the company of decaying bodies of ELF suspects[killed during torture]; throwing us into very cool and muddy cells with hands and legs under heavy chains; taking us to the outskirts of the city and asking us to tell the ‘whole truth’ or choose burial in the graves we dug during the nocturnal investigations”.
· “Of the political prisoners we found at the Central Prison, eight were sentenced to death, 20 to several years and the rest were awaiting their sentences. Our roommates during the early years included Ahmed Feraj (hanged) Seyoum (hanged), Embaye Hidru and Major Belai. Hamed Ibrahim Timbar, Adem Turkai, Ahmed Awad and other ELF fighters who languished in the prison for years and years without being sentenced. K know many political prisoners who spent over ten years until they were freed by the ELF in February 1975. When the authorities fail to establish even a fake ‘crime’ against a political prisoner, they leave him alone in the prison – just forget taking him to court”.
· It may now sound strange and foolish but we wished to be hanged at that time so that most of our schoolmates and friends would commit themselves to the struggle. The then Eritrean prosecutor Amanuel Amde-Michael (Derg’s Deputy Premier in 1975) was strongly calling for a death sentence on me and Seyoum and we were not registering any objection. When the final sentence was read in the court, we were asked whether we would like to appeal. We said no and immediately started thinking about what to do in the prison for the next ten years.
· [Malnutrition]: At one time, doctors attempted to refuse giving us any medical help before the government ordered better food to the emaciated bodies in Sembel, Adi Khualla and other prisons. I remember the time when most of us could not stand because of hunger and we were crawling on our bellies like small babies … I cannot describe the prison conditions in full. I can only remember them for myself.
· “Many of the man-killers in the prisons were Eritrean nationals who sold their skin and honor for pay. The names Tewolde Tedla, Majors Tecle and Fasil, Captains Gabar, Sibhatu, Estephanos, Mengisteab and Seargent Kibrom will long ring in the former prison inmates in Eritrea. History will not absolve them. The traitor Tewolde Tedla was the number one enemy of the political prisoners of the sixties and early seventies.
Source: Nharnet.com archives