Once forced to create propaganda for their government, Eritrean artists are defecting to seek new lives in Australia

Said Abdella (sometimes spelled as Saeed or Seid) is one of many Eritrean artists who've been sent to Australia by the Eritrean government with the objective of disseminating their propaganda. Now he has defected. As he seeks asylum, he is now speaking out against the government that previously controlled everything he said.

Legendary Eritrean artis Said Abdella at SBS studios.

Source: SBS Tigrinya

"If there was a democracy with real eyes, even if starved, I wouldn’t flee my home country," singer Said Abdella tells SBS Tigrinya

Abdella is an Eritrean singer and performer who recently defected from the Eritrean government, for whom he used to perform, to seek asylum here in Australia.

Out of 180 countries ranked in the , Eritrea came in at 179, behind Syria and ahead of only North Korea. For the past 26 years,, "Eritrea has been a dictatorship in which there is no room for freely reported news and information." 

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"Like everything else in Eritrea, the media are totally subject to the whim of President Issayas Afeworki, a predator of press freedom who is responsible for '.'"

Like most Eritrean citizens, singer Said Abdella served the government for more than 40 years, first as a freedom fighter for 16 years and then, since the independence of Eritrea in 1991, he has been under full government control, not yet demobilized.

"When they ordered me to wake up I do wake up, when they ordered me to sleep, I sleep.”
“Until I deserted in 2017, I have been under the PFDJ [People’s Front for Democracy and Justice - the only party in Eritrea] control," says Abdella. "When they ordered me to wake up I do wake up, when they ordered me to sleep, I sleep."

Said Abdela
Said Abdela performs on Eritrean TV - controlled by the government's Ministry Source: YouTube


Said applied four times for his release from government control and each time he had his application rejected. He even approached the secretary of the ruling party.

“I told him that I want to be released and raise my children freely but he refused,” says Abdella. 

Listen to Said Abdella's full radio interview (in Tigrinya) with SBS Tigrinya below:

LISTEN TO
http://audiomedia-sbs.akamaized.net/tigrinya_170629_707904.mp3 image

http://audiomedia-sbs.akamaized.net/tigrinya_170629_707904.mp3

34:04


Said Abdela
Eritrean singer Said Abdela pictured in Australia at SBS Radio in 2017 Source: SBS Tigrinya


Said Abdella’s asylum application is still under process by Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Even if he is far from his home country, he always worries about the safety of his wife, four daughters and two sons. 

“The family of my wife live in Ethiopia, I am here in Australia," says Abdella.

"I have daughters of 17 and 19 years of age.

"Because of me the authorities back home can harm or harass them.”

Abdella describes a recent alleged incident, “my daughter was ready to sing during the May 24 Eritrean Independence Day, when they found out that she was the daughter of Said Abdella they refused to let her sing.”



 

Abdella’s case is not an isolated story. Many Eritrean artists and national football players have deserted the government whenever they get the opportunity to leave Eritrea for a mission.

Here in Australia, for the past 15 years, famous Eritrean musicians such as Muktar Saleh, Abdel Hakim Arey; singers such as Alex Kahsay, Aklilu Mebrahtu and now Said Abdella are examples of those who have been sent to Australia by the Eritrean government with the objective of disseminating the government’s propaganda by performing for the Eritrean community.

Instead they deserted the government and were granted asylum in Australia.

“If an artist cannot do his artistic work freely, that means life for that artist has stopped.”
In a similar story to Said Abdella's, Michael Adonai is a well-known Eritrean painter, having had his work was staged in many international galleries and exhibitions.

In 2012, UNESCO invited top artists from 30 different countries to represent their countries and exhibit their work in Andorra. Michael was selected to represent Eritrea. But he deserted Eritrea and sought asylum in Australia in 2013.

Michael Adonai
Eritrean artist Michael Adonai pictured in his studio Source: michaeladonai.net/


in June 2014, SBS Tigrinya spoke to Michael as he was holding an exhibition called 'I didn’t choose to be a refugee’ in Melbourne. Explaining why he deserted the government he served for more than 40 years he replied, “If an artist cannot do his artistic work freely, that means life for that artist has stopped."

Listen to Michael Adonai's full 2014 interview (in Tigrinya) with SBS Tigrinya below:

LISTEN TO
http://audiomedia-sbs.akamaized.net/tigrinya_140621_343424.mp3 image

http://audiomedia-sbs.akamaized.net/tigrinya_140621_343424.mp3

17:52


Said Abdella echoed this and says artists like him have no freedom of expression in Eritrea.

In 1998, when Eritrea was engaged in a border war with Ethiopia, he wrote a song which blamed the government for the war.

The song was not literally blaming the government directly but metaphorically - using the symbol of time. Lyrics (in Tigrinya) included: "what have we done time? Please leave us time and let’s live a life without war. For that he had to pay a price."

"I wrote a song called 'Time' and they interpreted it differently," explains Abdela. "After it was aired on TV for two days they banned it and they detained me."

“If I teach the youth, through my songs, to behave, to get away from drugs, murder and lies, that is all that I can do to express my gratitude to the Government of Australia.”
Said Abdella has already given two musical performances in Melbourne and one in Brisbane and the community here cheered and welcomed him.

Eritrean Festival poster
A poster advertises the performance of Said and his band in Eritrean Festival Melbourne earlier this year Source: Supplied


Once he is granted residence here in Australia, he has a plan to educate Eritrean descendants through his songs to have discipline and inherit the good culture of old generations.

“If I teach the youth, through my songs, to behave, to get away from drugs, murder and lies, that is all that I can do to express my gratitude to the Government of Australia.”




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Published 20 July 2017 at 6:51pm
By Beyene Weldegiorgis