Jim’ie Saeed Kimeil, the soft spoken journalist, was known for his formidable personality and strong and principled stand among his colleagues. A man with a light sense of humor at times, but bold and courageous in crucial matters, Jim’ie was one of the journalists any serious person could put his/her trust on. His dedication and loyalty to his profession and his intense love for his homeland was unmatched.
Jim’ie was born in 1963 in his home-village, Karora, which borders the Sudan. As the place was unsafe due to the ongoing war of liberation, he migrated to the Sudan with his family at an early age. He pursued his schooling in Sudan until he finished high-school .
In the early 1980s, Jim’ie received a scholarship from Libya to attend university. While studying in Libya, he was very active in the student movement of Eritreans who supported the country’s struggle for independence. Eventually he joined the armed struggle and became an EPLF fighter. He served in different departments in various capacities. After independence he joined the editorial staff of the Arabic daily Eritreya al-Haditha, published by the Ministry of Information. Up to the day of his arrest, he worked as editor of the sports section, as investigative journalist, and as a cartoonist in the newspaper.
In 2001, a big sports delegation headed by the former president of the International Olympic Committee, the late Antonio Samaranch, visited Eritrea. The Eritrean Olympic Committee organized a reception in honor of the delegation. At the reception, the president of the Eritrean Olympic Committee presented an old wooden cross as a gift to the head of the delegation as a token of good will. The gift raised the ire of the journalist Jim’ie Kimeil. Few days later he wrote a piece about the delegation and noted the inappropriateness of the gift as it did not symbolize Eritrea’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, nor did it represent the secular nature of the Eritrean state.
After publication, he was summoned by the officials at the Ministry of Information. The senior officials intimidated and accused him of inflaming sectarian sentiments. As Jim’ie told me personally the Minister of Information at the time, the late Naizghi Kiflu, personally threatened and warned him never to raise such sensitive issues again.
The honest, and hardworking journalist, Jim’ie, was not intimidated by these warnings. As I have noted during my tenure in the newspaper, he was true to himself and was typical of him to take a stand. He always stood his ground and challenged the bosses who would try to intimidate him and force other journalists into becoming accomplices. Unlike most other journalists who had learned to never voice their opinion or express their true feelings, but were rather reduced to mechanical re-producers of the cliché propaganda, Jim’ie had the courage to discuss his country’s abysmal political, economic, and social mishaps. In the Ministry’s staff meetings, he would always raise such problematic issues and ask why the state media wouldn’t address them. He was clearly feeling the harsh living conditions the Eritrean population was enduring and saw the bitterness that such conditions fostered. Instead of serving as a propaganda tool for justifying the dismal reality, he repeatedly called for the media to be a voice for the voiceless citizenry.
When I joined the Ministry of Information as reporter in 2004, Jim’ie was my mentor. He used to give me guidance on my work and on how to play safe in the most stifling ministry. He used to tell me in detail the possible challenges I might face if I continued working in the ministry and advised me to find other better options rather than the dead-end that the Ministry represented.
That is also what I did eventually. As other options were unavailable, I took the only option left—flee risking death.
Jimi’e clearly foresaw his end. As most of his colleagues and close friends were fearing, he was detained on November 24, 2005, as part of a wave of arrests that included other 13 prominent figures including the famous singer and song writer Idris Mohammed Ali and Taha Mohammed Nur, one of the founders of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) (who died in detention in 2008).
To this date, the whereabouts of Jim’ie and those arrested with him are unknown.
*Mohammed Hiyabu is an Eritrean exiled journalist who is currently based in Cairo, Egypt. Mohammed was working as sports editor of the Arabic daily Eritreya al-Haditha (2004-2005) and a reporter from 2005-2006. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.