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A piece from my prison memoirs: Remembering Tegadalay and ex-prisoner Mulugeta Hagos Mekonnen, who was in three fronts of struggle

By: Gebru Boj’Boj
Tigrai Online Feb. 18, 2020

Blessing in disguise: before I start my main piece, I would like to mention and thank some of the bravest fellow prisoners that I had spent prison time with, who were also prison mates and friends of Mulugetta Hagos.  

 Few years before the maniac, blood thirsty and lunatic Mengistu regimes was crushed for good, I had the “opportunity”, yes opportunity, to be a prisoner in the two most notorious prison centers: Maekelawi and alem bekagn. When I think about my past prison time, I deliberately avoid thinking and visualizing about the painful life that I went through. I on purpose dwell only on the positive side that I experienced. 

While in prison, I was able to see, meet, intermingle, engage, live and befriended with highly respected, smart, torture and pain - tested, intellectuals and exemplary leaders who were beyond and above me in everything. They were humble, full of humility, an assuming, brave, voracious readers, who had super perseverance skills, etc. Being young and no clue on prison life, they were my source of strength and mentors. Every time you come back from day or night long interrogation and torture they come and visit you. They encourage you, they feed you, they give you books to make yourself busy, they bring you games (chase, cards, checkers, etc.) and play with you. Their support was like taking anti pain pills. They were like pain management doctors. Going through this amazing support, the physical pain you face leaves you out instantly.  

To mention some of these great people; Zegeye Assfaw, Aba Biya, Kebede ( Killed, Kebe, one-handed), Mulugeta Mossisa, Aberra Tola, Daniel Daffa, Tsegaye Nemerra ( killed), Assefa Chabo, Derege, Negerri , Dr. Mengesha Gebrehiwot ( killed), Col. Legesse Tegegn, Desalegn Asgedom ( killed), Mahtemeselassie ( killed), Aklilu Mewae ( killed), Kelemework, Aregay, Fitsum and  Fitsum, Kidanemariam, Mulugeta, Tegadalay Mulugeta Hagos ( Killed, Ahiyaw), Tegadalay Woldehaworiat Miruts, Gimel Berahlae ( killed), Dr. Belete Assefa, Haileselassie/Hylatt, Wodi Halllie ( Dr. Helofom Belay), Dr.Gebre, Mulugeta Aregawi, Zemenay Bahta, Getachew Belay, Hailemariam Konach, Yemane Toshome, Assefa Abraha, Kiros Tekle, Abraha Abadi, Dr. Tsegaberhan Woldegiorgis, Leul Yohalla, Dr. Kiros Alemayouh, Kasahoun Woldegiorgis, Dr. Tilahoun Gessesse, and so on and so forth. This list is few from many. 

Collectively, they were prisoners full of brevity and greatness. Because of these greats, I have learned a lot and they have changed my life for good. Because of them my prison pain was manageable. Because of their gift, whatever pain, stress and challenge I face, I have the strength to survive them with little pain. Blessing and RIP to those we died in prison and out of prison and longevity, bless, full health and success who are still alive and leading your life. I love you all. I wish those Mengistu lovers were imprisoned along with us and saw the true nature of the regime. 

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Tegadalay Mulugeta Hagos: What I am writing below is true history of Mullie and true conversation with him before he died. Mulugeta Hagos, here after I will sometimes use his prison nick name given to him by his notorious interrogators and torturers which was Ah’yaw (I will come back to this name after few paragraphs)  and sometimes Mullie nick name given by his fellow prisoners. Before I go into the main message of this article I would like to go in to his very succinct or brief introduction of his biography. Mullie was born in Tigrai State in Tembien zone in Abi’Addi town. Before he joined his fellow fighters and become Tegadalai, he had a job and decent life.  When the atrocities and ruthless actions and activities of the dergue regime against unarmed, innocent and unsuspecting Tigrians reached its pick, he decided to join his fellow Tegadeltti and left his family behind without any second thought on who will take care of his aging parents and extended family. As soon as he left them, his family was exposed to untold poverty and struggled a lot as Mullie’s support was missing. 

After few years of life as Tegadalay, he was exposed to an infectious bacterial disease called tuberculosis along with his fellow Tegadalay Woldehaweriat Miruts, his childhood friend. Since there was not any medical support and intervention for such dreadful disease, TPLF leadership decided to let them go to Mekelle city to receive their treatment and lead their life like any other people of Tigrai. They were discharged secretly with honor. Both surrendered to the regime and started living in Mekelle city. Tegadalay Woldehaweriat become very successful businessman and Mullie become employee of the government. Back then I was very young and had the opportunity to know both Tegadeltti. Mulugeta started a new life, married and had two beautiful girls. I was a high school student and left Mekelle for addiss Ababa to join Addis Ababa University. 

Before I graduated, I was thrown to prison and spent many years in Me’Ake’Lawi and Alem’Bekagn prison centers. After few years, I was transferred to Alem’Bekagn. Alem’Bakagn was only for prisoners of high crime, prisoners waiting for their capital punishment, and high-level political prisoners. It was a center where you are twenty-four hours locked behind. This center had 57 cells. Most of the prisoners were either Eritreans or Tigrians, more than 95 percent except for some life servers and capital punishment cases. 

After spending over one-year solitary confinement with in Alembakagn, we were asked to teach in the prison high school which was one of the best high schools in the nation. It was run completely by prisoners from cleaning to directorship. We accepted the request and started teaching high school students. During day shift, we were teaching fellow prisoners and evening shift we were teaching families of the correction officers and other high-ranking dergue officials and their families. It was during this opportune time that I saw able to see and met Mullie since he was imprisoned on the other section of the prison. After this time, we were regularly meeting after and before my teaching responsibility. 

Mullie was completely changed. His body was emaciated, his light skin face was blackened, and his big nose was broken in to two. You can visibly see the big scar he had on the middle of his nose. What happened to your nose was my first question. His direct response was it is a new nose, with broad smile, given to me by my interrogators. He told me how they broke it during the repeated torture that he went through. He was water-boarded eighteen times. This was a record as far as I knew. He had told me that he had passed out many times. There were not any other prisoners, as far as I knew, who was drowned eighteen times like Mullie. His voice was changed completely because of his broken nose. He had difficulty breathing via his nose.  

My next question was like what happened? Why they were able to imprison you. His direct response was that he never gave up being Tegadalay and he was working in disguise as Tegadalay and had a direct communication with TPLF leadership. He always considered himself as Tegadalay. He used to say the only difference with my Bitsot is that we are in different space and time. 

Mullie, I asked, why they call you Ahiyaw? His response was that is a name given to me by Wokaw and Moral who were the two top and notorious investigators in Ma’Ekalawi. I continued my question and asked why. His response was no matter how many days or times they torture me, I had never uttered a word. Because of this, my prison file was blank with out any line in the file. That was why they called me Ahiyam ( TE’Harimu Zey’Tekimmo). His response was always attested by his prison friends who had a direct knowledge of his sufferings. He was the most respected prisoner, along with Gimel Berahle, by his fellow prisoners. He was known for his brevity, resilience, and perseverance. His entire body was full of scars from the torture that he went through. He also lost all his toes, ten of them. 

At one time after observing my emotional weakness and lucking emotional intelligence, he called my name and said, listen up, do not praise me for bearing and managing all the sufferings. Compared to what my Bitsot are doing, this is nothing. Everyday my Bitsot are dying and paying their one and irreplaceable life. Every time he mentions his Tegadeltti friends, his face will be covered with tears. He always calls himself tegadalay without any fear even in the face of his interrogators. Every time I go to the school, he will always wait for me to say hi and every time I see him, he used to be lonely and always looking afar and outside. He was not intermingling with anyone. He was always alone. Mullie, why do I always see you alone? Why do not you interact with other prisoners? He responded by saying that I always have many friends that are talking to me. How come I do not see them was my follow up question and his response was they are out in the jungle of Tigray.  

One Saturday after noon, he invited me for lunch, and we started eating enjerra with lentil stew that was brought by a stranger. I asked him where that delicious food came from and he told me that it was brought by one young lady that he had no knowledge who she was. He never asked her who she was and he further told me that many people bring him food and other stuff that he had zero idea who they were. One late afternoon, Saturday, before we even finish eating our late lunch, about three big black military trucks started coming to the prison and everybody retreated to their cells before the correction officers gave direction. 

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 I asked Mullie, “what is going on”? Mulie said “they are going to do their usual thing, an action of whisking away prisoners and kill”. He said” what makes today unique is the number of these military macs.I have never seen all these military trucks coming at once. Usually it was one big mac. Maybe they will take many prisoners”. As soon as he responded to my inquiry he started to be changed fast and started searching his pocket and took out money. He said, take this money with a you ($19 birr) and a I have feeling that tonight is my night. I do not think I will see you again, he said. I did not know what to say. It could also be my turn Mullie, I said.  He responded “I do not think so, if it is, be Tigraway and die like Tigraway. Death is not new to us”. To this day I still have his money with me along with prison memoire. I want to take this treasure of beautiful memory down to my grave with me. 

 He further, rushing, said “listen before they force us to go to our respective cells, I want you to know that I do not have even an iota of any regret and fear. I am Tegadalay and I take my death as a death for my people. It is an honor. And remember, our triumph is inevitable. I promise, I will tell this to the last person who will shoot or hang me that the struggle of my people will ultimately triumph. I am heading out from this World happily and peacefully and his final word was Awotna nay’giden Eyou. Our sacrifice is our highway to the sacred point that we are aiming at. We will certainly reach this point. Please say goodbye to my fellow prisoners. Ajokum beleley”. I did not know what to say. The only thing I said was” please keep the money with you. You will be okay”. He threw the money back at me and waved his hand and left me there. He was not even looking back. I saw him until he disappeared from my view.  

The next Monday, I left Alem’Bekagn and went to the school. I reached at the usual rendezvous where Mullie and I meet and greet and Mullie was not there. As soon as I arrived at the school, I informed the principal that I was not feeling well and went back to Alem’Bekagn. I did not go back to the school after that and I was assigned to teach in the Alem’Bekagn high school as we had many Eritrean brother who were attending our school. I was confined in Alembekagn twenty=four hours, seven days until I was freed. 

Mullie, RIP, after all your dreams and vision that you suffered and died for are not in vein. Thanks to your sacrifice, your people of Tigray are determined, united and showing love and compassion to each other more than any other time. Do not toss and turn. Your sacrifice is not in vein. You were the standard bearer for our rights. You were classless. You had given us the strength to be supper confident and proud of our history and people. Your strength and sacrifice are helping us move forward.  

Mullie, I cannot lie to you. The first few years of your death were very painful for me and I was being disturbed non-stop. Every time the last words you shared with come to my mind, tears were being squeezed from my eyes non-stop. I was not sure that your sacrifice will bring full fruition. I was a doubter. After seeing your dreams come true, I am being thrilled in perpetuity or continuum. 

Your dream is alive. Please RIP and thank you and thank you. You died for us along thousands of your fellow Tigrians. Be assured Mullie, you are alive and living in the minds of millions. We all are united and determined. We are pushing your dream. We have achieved a lot and we will achieve more. 

I hope Mullie’s name is placed along with his fellow Tegadeltti in the Haweltti Museum. If it is not, we do not know our history fully. 

I have a plan to come back with a prison life history of Dr. Mengesha Gebrehiwot and Gimael Berahlae.