Radio Erena: 05 May 2021
The Eritrean activism and media community received a stunning and sad blow on World Free Press Day as the hero-journalist Aron Berhane passed away in his exile in Canada due to Covid-19 complications. The untimely death of this committed journalist and activist sent shock waves along the diaspora community which hasn’t yet fully recovered from the loss of Milkias Mehret Ab, the one-time editor-in-chief of Qeste-Debena newspaper, who passed away at the end of March in the United States.
Aron Berhane was the co-founder of Setit, one of the daring privately-owned newspapers that prospered in the short-lived freedom of press period in Eritrea in the early post-independence years. A graduate of the Media Studies Section at Asmara University, Aron was one of the brilliant journalists in the country. He narrowly escaped arrest in the notorious journalists’ purge in September 2001. Aron was on a work trip abroad when the security forces, on direct orders from President Isias Afwerki, arrested all private press owners and editors-in-chief, on what became globally known as the ‘Eritrean Press Black Day’.
In his exile in Canada, Aron continued his daring fight for the freedom of the press in Eritrea and courageously fought for the release of his colleagues in the dungeons since 2001. In 2016, Aron presented a paper on the situation of freedom of the press in the side-meetings of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. In his crystal-clear English, he surveyed the situation of the press in Eritrea and his voice strained when he mentioned his imprisoned colleagues.
His strained voice felt in the hall, reflected both his colleagues’ and his own deeply felt anguish. When the meeting was over, we agreed to launch an English- Arabic campaign about the imprisoned colleagues; the campaign was to coincide with the publishing of the Report of the Commission of Investigation on Human Rights Violations in Eritrea. His immediate task was to work on publishing the papers presented in the meetings, including a paper by Hana Solomon, the daughter of the detained former foreign minister Petros Solomon, and also the paper of Justice Abdallah Osman Khiyar the Eritrean Supreme Court Judge on the violations of the authorities of the Judiciary.
In 2004, Aron founded his Broadcasting and Media Production Company, Meftih (The Key), which he dedicated to the freedom of the press in Eritrea and to incessantly counter the subversive Asmara government media policies. His media company issued a newspaper with the same name in Toronto, where he lived and worked. Although Aron lived in exile which lies a thousand kilometers away from his beloved city, he had always been under continued harassment as his family members were from time to time detained for long periods of time for investigations and interrogations. Despite his faraway exile and prevalent concerns in addition to his deep anxieties, he resisted the nuisances of jet lags and tight work schedules to participate in lots of events in Asia, Europe, and Africa to present the case of his detained colleagues. The untimely loss of Aron Berhane during the battle for freedoms in Eritrea is a dreadful setback to Eritrean media, activism, and the resistance spirits of the diaspora community.
May his soul rest in eternal peace. Our Deep sympathy and condolences to his family and colleagues.
By Fathi Osman