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THREAD: Due to numerous requests, I'm posting here an English translation of my Amharic language thread on our investigation into the death of 19 year old Tigist Belay Tadesse, an #Ethiopian domestic worker in #Lebanon back in February of this year.
This is the original thread. Tigist's death was among several probed as part of a larger investigation into the deaths of domestic workers in Lebanon conducted with the aid of activists from the underground @ThisIsLebanonDW initiative.
@ThisIsLebanonDW Tigist Belay died on February 2nd 2019 at the home of her Lebanese employer in the city of Jounieh, north of Beirut. Her death was declared a suicide. She had been in the country for only 7 months before her untimely passing.
@ThisIsLebanonDW Tigist was the youngest of four and grew up in the rural Gebreamba, of the Amhara region's Southern Wollo zone. Her older sister had already relocated to the Middle East for work purposes and she decided to follow the same path to earn money that would support the family.
@ThisIsLebanonDW Tigist was employed at the home of this man, 58 year old Elias Milad Saab, a former @RedCrossLebanon employee. Tigist cleaned the house, cooked and also cared for Elias' elderly mother who suffers from cancer.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon But Tigist's siblings say that their younger sister told them she was regularly beaten, kicked, spat at by both Elias Milad and his son. On top of that, the family withheld pay and at the time of Tigist's death, she had still not received 3 months pay from the Saab family.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon Her older brother Amare Belay tells me that 3 days prior to her death, Tigist called him and told him she feared for her life. "When they look at me, they glare coldly, I don't think they'll let me leave alive." Amare desperate, tried contacting her agency to no avail.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon Elias Milad Saab has a son and a daughter. The daughter, Leda Saab (pictured) is the one who notified Tigist's family of the 19 year old Ethiopian's death. She sent Tigist's sister Emebet a voice message on Whatsapp. The 27 second message is a chilling one.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon Here is the audio. I later confirmed that the voice message was sent from a phone registered in Leda Saab's name. In Arabic, she starts by telling Emebet not to contact them again. Leda explains that Tigist committed suicide by poisoning herself & that this was "not our problem."
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon After sending this voice message, Leda blocked the shocked and distraught Emebet from responding to her on Whatsapp. This cold, empathy lacking message was according to Leda, a befitting way of notifying Tigist's family of a horrible tragedy.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon Tigist's family was devastated. They could not accept that Tigist would take her own life but they had nowhere to turn to for answers as the Saab family was unwilling to communicate with them. The body was shipped home where upon arrival in Addis Ababa, an autopsy was conducted.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon This is the autopsy report conducted at the St Paul Hospital in Addis Ababa. The specialists who oversaw the autopsy were unable to determine exactly how Tigist died, but the irregularities listed here amongst their findings point to a lack of oxygen resulting in her death.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon There is absolutely no mention of a poisoning or any poison being found in her system in the autopsy report. So why would Leda claim that this was the way Tigist took her own life? For the family, this lack of closure compounded their pain and grieving.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon The @ThisIsLebanonDW migrant rights group obtained the Jounieh police report into Tigist's death & sent it to me. The handwritten report is in Arabic and if anything, it leaves the reader asking even more questions about exactly what happened at the Saab home on February 2nd 2019
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon With the help of my colleague @BilehJelan who is fluent in Arabic, we analysed the report, which included a sworn statement from Tigist's employer, Elias Milad Saab. Elias told police Tigist had hanged herself with a rope. No mention whatsoever of a poisoning in the entire report
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan But Elias Milad's claim that Tigist hanged herself wouldn't be in tune with what the autopsy report says, according to a medical specialist who contacted me on Twitter. The autopsy showed no evidence of something called the "hangman's injury" a common fracture noted in hangings.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan The fact that there were no broken bone fragments in the neck and the vertebra not being cracked point to her having been strangled, likely by applying pressure to her mouth and nose preventing her from breathing & not a hanging, the specialist told me.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan But if this wasn't suspicious enough, Elias Milad Saab making conflicting statements to police in a single interview ought to raise eyebrows. He told police that he had discovered the dead body in her room, before going on to say that he had found Tigist hanging from the balcony.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan Let's say he misspoke. It would be hard to also say he misspoke when he gave police false contact information and also claimed that he spends his days taking care of his disabled daughter. Leda Saab is not disabled. Why so much erratic behavior in front of the police?
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan Which brings us back to Leda Saab: why would she tell Emebet Belay that her sister drank poison with the goal of killing herself when clearly that did not happen? And why did she have to warn a heartbroken Emebet not to contact her again? What does that point to?
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan What it points to is the Saab family perhaps knowing more about the way Tigist died than what they'd like us to know. Her father's lies and conflicting statements, her own conduct, I decided to contact the Saab family to see what they had to say for themselves.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan Leda's Facebook page revealed her to be a French speaker, so being one myself I rang her up. This is a recording of our brief exchange. 5 months after telling Emebet that her sister had poisoned herself, she told me that she now had no idea how Tigist died. She then hung up on me
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan Elias Milad Saab would not respond to phone calls or Whatsapp messages from @BilehJelan. But for his daughter to claim to be totally ignorant about the circumstances surrounding Tigist's death despite available evidence? A red flag if you ask me.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan Between father and daughter, there are numerous documented instances of outright lies, conflicting statements and a very bad job at keeping the story straight. When it comes to the death of Tigist Belay, the Saab family's conduct should have them be looked at with suspicion.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan With the death of an Ethiopian citizen in Lebanon, it should normally be the jurisdiction of the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut to contact police & if necessary, see to it that legal action is taken. But the consulate had done nothing other than ship her body back home for burial.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan Available evidence that we had been able to accumulate appeared to quash the narrative that Tigist had committed suicide. The Saab family certainly appears to be hiding something. Why hadn't Ethiopian consular officials taken action as their job would require?
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan The Ethiopian consulate in Beirut is notorious for turning a blind eye to reports of abuse & murder of Ethiopian domestic workers by their employers. They've long provoked the ire of Ethiopians in Lebanon who say consular staff are there to collect salaries & simply don't care.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan Once again, with the assistance of @ThisIsLebanonDW activists on the ground in Lebanon, we were able to obtain a consular document which revealed the identity of the Ethiopian consulate staff member tasked with overseeing the Tigist Belay case.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan This document, with the official consular seal stamped to it, includes the name & signature of Samson Abebe Telila, an employee who we learned has been posted at the consulate in Beirut for about 2 years now. In the letter, Samson requests aid in transporting Tigist's body.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan This document obtained from @TheFintercept lists Samson Abebe Telila as also serving as a secretary at the consulate. He was directly involvement in sending Tigist's remains home for burial in Ethiopia, but evidence shows he did nothing else. So I decided to ask him why.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept I was able to learn from activists and domestic workers in Lebanon that Samson Abebe Telila was reputed for his refusal to answer phone calls, his lack of engagement with the community since his employment at the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept Over the course of several weeks, I attempted to reach Samson via the listed consular number & email in vain. So I obtained his personal number. He wouldn't respond to calls, so I messaged him on Whatsapp asking why he had done nothing to obtain answers in the Tigist case.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept Not going to translate word for word as it's lengthy. But Samson Abebe Telila goes on to question my journalism ethics and is irritated with being contacted on his personal #. He says, if Tigist's family want answers, they should reach out to the @mfaethiopia.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia I replied by stating that I had documented evidence of his being the consular representative that oversaw the Tigist Belay case. I asked him if he thought his job at the consulate was of nothing more than sending the corpses of Ethiopians back home to their heartbroken families.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia Samson Abebe Telila with ambassador Mohammed Berihu. What is clear from our exchanges is that despite being a diplomat & representative of the Ethiopian gov, Samson doesn't believe he has the responsibility of even lifting a finger to safeguard the dignity of his fellow citizens.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia In our exchanges, some not posted in this thread, not once did Samson Abebe Telila refer to Tigist by her name. He doesn't dispute the authenticity of the letter nor does he dispute that it was him put in charge of the Tigist Belay case.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia Tigist died days away from her 20th birthday, but was still very youthful in her ways, her sister Emebet tells me. She enjoyed playing in snow, something she saw for the first time in her life when she arrived in Lebanon. Her family has still not come to terms with their loss.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia Her employment at the Saab family home saw the teenager be repeatedly assaulted, go months without pay before dying in circumstances that are murky & certainly point to the official narrative being false. But neither the Ethiopian consulate nor Lebanese police cared enough.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia For more into Tigist's death and those of other Ethiopian domestic workers neglected by both the Lebanese state and the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut, read my recent report published at Addis Standard.
addisstandard.com/special-editio…
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia My work on Lebanon is not done, as I'm working on another story. But it's an area that requires heightened media attention. For journos willing to look into the failings over there, DM me, I'll gladly assist you. Also, contact the folks at @ThisIsLebanonDW.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia It is clear that both the Lebanese government's maintaining of the kafala system & the Ethiopian consulate's refusal to take a hardline approach in the defense of its citizens contributes to these deaths.
This beautiful girl should have been in the prime of her life right now.
@ThisIsLebanonDW @RedCrossLebanon @BilehJelan @TheFintercept @mfaethiopia Also...to learn more about the great work that the team at This is Lebanon do...check out this Al Jazeera article on the organization.
aljazeera.com/amp/news/2019/…
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