17/02/2016 05:44 GMT | Updated 15/02/2017 05:12 GMT

We Need to Share My Uncle's Story; Doing So Could Save His Life


My uncle Seyoum Tsehaye was an extraordinary man living an ordinary man's life. He had been a war photographer during Eritrea's independence war, famous for his iconic footage capturing some of the most beautiful and brutal aspects of the conflict. When the war had ended, he became a journalist advocating on behalf of the rights of his people in the newly formed nation, Eritrea. After dedicating his own life to the 30 year long war for independence, the ordinary life was long awaited. He was married, had one daughter and another one only two months away. He was hopeful for the future. Then one day, there was a knock on the door. And his life changed forever.

That was 14 years ago. About a week after the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Eritrean government shut down all independent media and imprisoned all journalists and politicians that had advocated for human rights and democratic reforms in the country. With the whole world's attention riveted on New York City, all of this occurred unnoticed.

Seyoum Tsehaye was one of those imprisoned that day.

I was six years old when I first heard about my uncle's fate. I instantly shared the story to my friends. When our parents came to pick us up after school, they found us asking people to donate money into the plastic cups we were walking around with on the school yard. One parent asked their daughter what she was doing. She replied: "Vanessa's uncle has been imprisoned in Eritrea, but he didn't do anything wrong. So we are collecting money to buy a plane ticket to go the prison, release him, and bring him to Sweden."

Never underestimate the power of sharing a story. I was very young, but with one simple story I had managed to inform, touch and engage.

Today, more than 14 years have passed. Until this very day, my uncle has not been granted a trial or any judicial justification to why he has been kept imprisoned for all this time.

For more than 14 years, no one, not his daughters, wife, siblings, mother, friends or lawyers have been allowed to visit him.

For more than 14 years, he has been held isolated with his legs and hands tied up, in a cell in the middle of the desert where it is blazing hot during the day and freezing cold during the night.

For 14 years, he has been stripped of his humanity. Robbed of the chance to speak up.

For many this is completely unbelievable. And it is. It is despicable and a disgrace to humankind that these kind of brutal practices are going on, and that they are going without many of us knowing. That is what the main problem is; the plight that Seyoum literally has dedicated his whole life and freedom to, is being forgotten. But the reason I started fighting for my uncle was because I realized that the ending of this story still is unwritten. I know that 14 years have passed, but I also know that it is not yet too late to make a change.

We need to share his story, because by sharing his story we can actually free him. We need to share his story because his plight needs to be heard, and supported. We need to share his story, because we need to make sure that he is never going to be forgotten, and make sure that the Eritrean government feel the constant pressure from us demanding his release.

We need to share his story, because he is not alone. Because hundreds of people like him have been imprisoned without a trial and have still not been granted justice. We need to share his story because it speaks for the millions of people that are victims of the Eritrean dictatorship my uncle tried to challenge.

I am sharing his story, not only because I am his niece, but because it is so easy. There are so many ways you can do it; through social media, at your college campus, workplace, the dinner table, to a friend. By sharing this article. Everyone is different, but everyone knows someone. We can all share his story through whatever means we have available to us.

I am sharing his story because had it been me I would have wanted every single person that could, to share my story. I would have wanted people to fight for me.

Today, I am pleading to you to share my uncle Seyoum's story. Inform, touch, and engage. It could save his life.