Open Letter to the Political Prisoner Jim’ie Kimeil




Jim'ie Kimeil is one of numerous political prisoners, journalists and writers, who are victims of enforced disappearance in Eritrea, all of whom have been detained without trial, some since 2001. Relatives and lawyers have no access to the detainees, their whereabouts are kept secret. Jimi'e Kimeil, a sports journalist born in 1960, was arrested on November 24, 2005, fifteen years ago! We have no information about his whereabouts or his wellbeing. We do not even know if he is still alive.

Jimi’e Kimeil has been an Honorary Member of Austrian PEN since 2015. PEN Austria’s Writers-in-Prison Committee advocates for his release, along with numerous other human rights organizations.



Open Letter to the Political Prisoner Jim’ie Kimeil, whose enforced disappearance took place in Eritrea in 2005


Dear Jim’ie,


You were arrested on 24 November 2005 in Eritrea. Fifteen years ago, today. That means you have already spent 5,475 days in confinement: something beyond any possible imagining. We know about the torture and the most miserable conditions suffered by political prisoners detained in your country. Your prison cell is most likely a shack: what must that be like with the African heat and the freezing nights? Are you even still alive? Your wife and your two children, your relatives and friends, want so much to receive even the smallest sign of life from you, the shortest of letters: I am still alive, am reasonably healthy, period. What must it be like for your children to have a father of whom they no longer know if he even exists, how much mourning, anger and longing weighing on such little souls? And your wife … waiting for her husband, tormented by endless uncertainty, constantly torn, ground down, between hope and disappointment, yet helpless. Not one of your heartless guards would ever think to send word to your wife and your two children, even anonymously, letting them know that you are still alive or, the dreadful news, that you died long ago. Then they would have reason to continue hoping or finally to mourn your death. This torment done to your nearest and dearest through uncertainty is torture, not to mention what has been done to you.


Your country is not doing well, even though a peace agreement with Ethiopia was finally reached two years ago. There is only one TV and radio station and just one newspaper survives. The only university in the country has been closed. The most terrible violations of human rights and a life-long enforced national service lead more than 3,000 people to flee Eritrea each month. They are ready to risk their lives in the Sahara desert or the Mediterranean Sea, in order to reach countries that want at best to shunt them off elsewhere right away, or put terrible obstacles in the way of their getting established.


Your friends have told of how, when you turned twelve, you were handed over to a foreign caravan traveling to Sudan so that your uncle could provide for your education there. You received a scholarship to study agricultural sciences in Libya; became politically active as a student campaigning for your Eritrean homeland; then risked your life for three years as a freedom fighter in the war for Eritrean independence. In the end you became a sports reporter. At that time, you called for the country to face up to its political issues. First you were threatened, then you were simply disappeared...




You have been an Honorary Member of Austrian PEN for four years. When you are freed, we want to invite you to Austria. We would so like to get to know you and welcome you here.


Your wife Khadija, who escaped to Sweden, has still not yet been able to give her consent to a worldwide campaign; because, while your son Akram and your daughter Ekram are out of the country, they are still housed in a refugee camp, so are not in safety. Sweden has not yet allowed your children to follow their mother. Nonetheless we are currently putting all our efforts into bringing this about.


A gust of wind blows the last leaves from the tree in front of my window. I feel the pain of falling leaves and the pain at the life robbed from you in the no- man’s-land of wooden shacks and prison containers. What are they doing to you and your fellow detainees? Whether political prisoners are permitted to see one another or held in the strictest solitary confinement, we do not know. We only know that so far none of you has returned alive.


Please do not give up, above all do not give up on yourself. All of us in the human rights organizations fighting for your release and that of your colleagues in confinement, we too will never give up.


Dear Jimi’e, you are an honorary member of Austrian PEN, we hope that you will remain unbroken, that you can draw on an inner strength, and that you will not give up hope. What you do not know, cannot know, after these fifteen long years: there are very, very many people thinking of all the disappeared, people who have not forgotten you and will never forget. You cannot imagine how many we are, in many countries all around the world. Nor how we are thinking of you, especially today, on 24 November, the 15th anniversary of your arrest. It is on this very day that we call on the Eritrean Government to release you without delay.




Wolfgang Martin Roth, on behalf of the Writers-in-Prison Committee in the Austrian PEN Club


                                                   Translated from the German by Karen Leeder