Freedom of Expression: A Virtue of Human Nature

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On December 4, 2013, CJFE honoured three Eritrean journalists with an International Press Freedom Award for their courageous reporting. One of the recipients, Mebrahtu Teclesion Berhe, reflects here on receiving this award and the importance of free expression to him and Eritrea.

By Mebrahtu Teclesion Berhe

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.“
- Winston Churchill

Authoritarianism is a classical leadership style; dictators are ambitious, opting to strengthen the economic and military might of their state for various reasons — defense, offense, chauvinism, consolidating power, or managing a crisis. But regardless of the reason, these often come at the cost of fundamental human rights.

Eritrea, a tiny country in the horn of Africa, is one such authoritarian state. However, it is unique in that it has no constitution. As a result there is no political pluralism, no freedom of the press, no freedom of assembly, no independent court, no freedom of worship, no freedom of movement, no academic freedom and its people enjoy no basic rights. The regime has destroyed two significant national pillars: justice and education. This has put the state into horrifying political, economic and social crisis.

I have not been formally trained as a professional journalist at a prestigious university. Instead, I express my feelings, ideas, attitudes, and perception about the miserable situation in Eritrea naturally as a human being entitled to the right to speak out freely.

Freedom of expression is a simple, natural instinct; part and parcel of human life. We need to speak with a sense of morality, tranquility and rationality. A country can never benefit from false praise, and this is especially true in Eritrea, where there is a state of permanent social crisis, economic bankruptcy, political impoverishment, forced labour, rape, torture, disappearance, extra-judicial killings, and mass migration.

The 16th annual CJFE Gala, held on December 4th in Toronto, had historical significance for the persistent struggle of Eritreans to promote freedom of expression in our country by awarding myself and two other Eritrean journalists International Press Freedom Awards (IPFAs) for our work. But we should not forget the thousands of political dissidents and innocent journalists imprisoned without any form of due process; we should not forget the suffering of thousands of Eritrean refugees in the various camps of neighboring countries and we should not forget many young citizens who are perishing in the desert, sea and ocean while trying to escape the authoritarian Eritrean regime.

The government has failed to manage the growing economic, social and political problems. But CJFE is helping us develop a strong network of government and non-government institutions to accelerate the process of healthy and peaceful political and economic transformation in our country. CJFE helps foster the courage and resilience we need to carry out our responsibility to stand up for peace, to stand up for freedom and to stand up for justice with a unified voice.

I do believe that freedom of expression is not a political option; it is a virtue of human nature. I need to speak freely, because I am a human being; it does not need any further clarification or justification. That is why we are working hard to be a voice for voiceless people without any form of payment or personal gains. In that sense, the IPFA from CJFE is both a burden and a blessing. It gives us the strength to carry on, but reminds us how far we still must travel to attain justice and freedom.

Mebrahtu Teclesion Berhe is an Eritrean journalist, researcher and human rights activist. Along with two of his colleagues, Dessale Berekhet Abraham and Ruth Zecarias Ghebre, he works on Unitedvoices Media Center a project that promotes free expression, peace and respect for human rights in Eritrea. Berhe is a joint recipient of a 2013 CJFE International Press Freedom Award.