Help Wanted to Pressure US Embassy Official


A friend of mine, Eritrean-American journalist Michael Abraham, is without resources or means of subsistence in Nairobi because a white US Embassy official will not give him the proof of his US citizenship that he needs to work as foreign correspondent or obtain emergency assistance from media rights groups as a journalist in distress having lost everything in the bloody South Sudan war. He has been offered both employment and assistance, if he can show his passport.
He can’t, because his passport is being held by a hotel manager who will not give it back until he pays the money he owes the hotel. But without a job, he can’t repay the hotel.
The embassy is refusing to provide a temporary proof of citizenship which would enable him to get a job as journalist. Isn’t that illegal? What can Michael do from here? Is there anyone reading this with the legal knowledge to give him free advice?
Here’s the whole story, which appears to be yet another tale of a white official acting racist. I have written it up as a press article, but I haven’t yet found any publication interested. When there is another unarmed Black citizen shot every few days in the US, I guess no one is up for paying attention to a Black citizen being blackballed by our embassy thousands of miles away. But if you have any legal advice, please do email me. The story in full:

For over a year Africa-born US national Michael Abraham has been shunned and ostracized as a journalist in distress by the US Embassy and media rights NGOs in Nairobi, Kenya. He has been denied access to his passport. Finally his story is being reported in the Kenyan press including The Nairobian [above], which recently reported his troubles caused by the South Sudan war.
Abraham had a distinguished career as a lawyer and journalist in Ethiopia before government death threats caused him to seek asylum in the US. In 2011 he returned to East Africa and then moved to newly independent South Sudan to serve as Chief Editor and Trainer with a leading national newspaper, The Pioneer. He trained many young journalists, and supplemented his income in the last few months of 2013 as a UNESCO Media Consultant as well as a hotel legal adviser and manager.
Following an outbreak of violent fighting in Juba in December 2013 he was airlifted to Nairobi for safety on instructions of the US government. “My departure was sudden and planned within one hour, which meant leaving everything behind,” he says. “This caused the loss of my earnings and belongings as fear and violence swept Juba, aggravating corruption and criminal activities in the country.”
He contacted the US Embassy’s American Citizen Services (ACS) head Mike Pryor and explained to him that he was a collateral victim of the South Sudan war.
Pryor’s ACS office then sent him an email dated February 20, 2014, stating that emergency assistance (accommodation, food, and other essentials) was available if he was not returning to the US right away. He passed on a copy of this ACS message to the manager of his Nairobi hotel, Sammy Chege, who then let him continue to stay on credit hoping there would be some kind of emergency assistance from the Embassy as stated in the email.
Since all US assistance appeared to be given in a form of a loan, Michael wanted only a small loan to enable him to work out a monthly installment payment plan as he negotiated job offers with the Kenya Daily Nation and considered other freelance work for a couple of foreign news outlets.
The embassy reneged on its decision to assist. When he challenged the refusal as an illegal action, Abraham says, “US Embassy official Mike Pryor, was so furious that he decided not even to confirm my US citizenship, which would have enabled me to accept nonprofit assistance and a job offer.”
Pryor did not use racist language but Abraham felt he was being profiled and stereotyped as an African American expecting an automatic welfare type of assistance.
Instead of offering an explanation, Abraham says “ACS head Mike Pryor retaliated by instructing my hotel manager Sammy Chege to disregard the assistance offer and lock me out.” Chege confirmed the embassy’s order in an interview with The Nairobian newspaper in early July, 2015. Asked by the same paper to comment on Abraham’s allegation of embassy’s inconsistencies, Pryor said he “has no obligation by law to discuss the matter with anyone.”
Obeying orders, Chege locked Abraham out of his hotel room, confiscating all his personal and professional belongings including his passport, laptop, camera, cellphone, clothes, documents and countless other valuable items.
In dire straits, Abraham contacted Father Anthony Awituria, Head of Administration and Finance for Caritas, the humanitarian arm of the Catholic church in Nairobi, and a close partner of a Catholic charity Abraham had worked for in the 1980s. Awituria needed to see his American passport before the church could assist him with shelter and food. Since the passport had been confiscated, he wanted written proof from the US embassy that Abraham was a US citizen. The US Embassy refused to confirm to Fr. Anthony that he was a US citizen, thus blocking his chances of getting emergency assistance from the church, Abraham said.
Unable to receive emergency help from Caritas or a job from the Daily Nation without proof of US citizenship, Abraham’s hopes to continue work as journalist in Nairobi were dashed. He said that after reversing its decision on emergency assistance, “the embassy suggested that it could grant me a limited travel permit to return to the US provided I acquired a government loan for a one way air ticket”. Abraham says it was impossible for him to go back home leaving behind his precious belongings at the Nairobi hotel as well as other personal and professional items in Juba and Addis Ababa.
Things got worse. Abraham recounts: “On April 8, 2014, there was a, thankfully unsuccessful, abduction and assassination attempt on my life in Nairobi by an African government’s agents assisted by four Kenyan police officers in retaliation for my critical writings as a journalist. I immediately called Mr. Pryor and informed him of the aborted incident. ‘Now you have become a problem not only to yourself but to others as well, Pryor yelled at me in abusive language and hung up the phone.'”
In addition to Caritas, Pryor also contacted the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters without Borders, the Kenya Human Rights Commission and many other rights groups pressuring them directly or indirectly to look the other way in the wake of the attempt on his life. Concerned that impunity only emboldened opponents and haters of a free press, Abraham tried in vain to obtain funds to hire a lawyer to prosecute those who tried to silence him. His case file is now collecting dust at the Kenya Prosecutors Office while Abraham continues to receive threats on his life.
After The Nairobian article came out, CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes apologized for his inaction, an apology Abraham gladly accepted though it was 18 months overdue. In an interview for this article Rhodes said “he had been overwhelmed by the volume of other cases and promised to contact Abraham and reopen Abraham’s case”.
The US Embassy has offered no explanation for its actions causing suffering and isolation. But Abraham hopes it will rectify the situation even at this late hour. What it can do is simply provide proof of citizenship so Abraham can get employment and start to pay back the hotel, as it should have done a year and a half ago.
Abraham (who also uses the spelling Abraha) is an Eritrean lawyer who became a prominent radio and TV news anchor in Addis Ababa in the 1970s and 80s. He exclusively interviewed leaders like Oliver Tambo, Robert Mugabe, Fidel Castro, Idi Amin, and many other politicians, writers and artists. Attempting to escape the increasing political demands of the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia, he took a job as press officer with Catholic Relief Services, the American Catholic charity, only to find himself a liaison for Western journalists and aid donors during the Ethiopian famine of 1983-5, when one million people died: a traumatic experience as he counted the bodies every week. Tipped off that he was on a list for execution by a Mengistu death squad, he managed to defect to the US, where he gained asylum and citizenship, settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many years followed in which he provided legal services to immigrants, while writing on African issues. In recent years he lived in San Jose. Finally in 2011 he achieved his dream of returning to Africa as a journalist. Michael believes that by writing from Africa, he can play a meaningful role in building a better bridge of understanding between the US and Africa.

As I wrote above, if you have any legal advice for Michael, please email me.

16 thoughts on “Help Wanted to Pressure US Embassy Official

  1. Does everything have to be racism?
    “He can’t, because his passport is being held by a hotel manager who will not give it back until he pays the money he owes the hotel. But without a job, he can’t repay the hotel”
    Perhaps Tikkun, with its considerable resources can help Abraham pay his hotel bill. Also if he lost his passport, the embassy should be able to obtain a new passport with alternative proof of identify. I’m sure as a lawyer and intentional traveler, he would know this. When I travel abroad, I always have a copy of my passport and I’m not a famous folk hero Tikkunista lawyer
    I’m guessing there s more to this story, but it is once again easy to blame whitey.
    Free Tibet!

    • I’m sure Tikkun wishes it had “considerable resources” rather than hanging on by its fingertips, like many nonprofit media outlets today.
      And yes, that was my whole point, that “the embassy should be able to obtain a new passport with alternative proof of identify.” But they are refusing to do so. Is it because the official took a personal dislike to Michael, or is racial stereotyping involved? I don’t know. I don’t even need to know, would just be happy if he would issue the document Michael needs.

      • If I did not pay my hotel tab and the manager held on to my passport as a result, it’s on me. Ff course , he gets a new passport and walks away from an unpaid hotel bill. How do you feel about leaving a private business owner high and dry? I call that a freeloader. There is more to this story your freind or you are not writing about. I highly doubt the embassy in the consular section is racist.That’s a serious charge
        Are you aklso claiming that media rights NGOs are racist as well? Is it that easy to drop the race card?
        I did a search for your friends work and cannot find anything. He must be a well very published journalist. BTW, what his impression of Mugabe and Idi Amin. Are they victims of racism as well?

  2. The author of the blog, David Belden, says the victim of South Sudan war, Michael Abraham, was arranging a payment plan with his hotel as he was about to take up writing post with the Kenya Daily Nation. Then out of the blue, a US Embassy official in Nairobi suddenly orders the hotel to lock Michael out because the South Sudan war victim apparently argued with the embassy official for his refusal to implement a US government law providing for assistance to US citizens in a crisis situation overseas because of war and other calamities. Hotels are often open to such payment arrangements provided the customer has a job and Michael was in about to begin a new job with the Kenyan newspaper. Why would the embassy intervene and pressure the hotel to evict him instead of supporting and blessing an agreement between a black US journalist and his hotel. Then, as Mr. Belden explains, the Embassy pressures a Catholic church NGO not to support him by refusing to acknowledge that the war victim is a US citizen. The question is thus appropriate: Would the embassy refuse to recognize him as US citizen had he been white. Bernie Sanders says Sandra Bland would not have died in jail had she been white. Fred is incapable of understanding or is in absolute denial that some people are prone to being biased against others because of race or ethnicity. David is a respectable observer reporting facts he received from a veteran journalist while Fred is twisting the facts and making up his own. This is very immature and I urge you to leave your ugly motives at home.

    • I smell a lot of BS here.
      1. How does a foreign embassy have the power of jurisdiction to order a hotel owner to lock a box containing his passport? Please, intelligent answers, please
      2. Since when are hotels open to such payments. They give u their leverage by holding his passport, the free loader is gone.
      3. Without documentation, how can a Catholic NGO acknowledge is US citizenship
      As someone who has traveled around the world, i either carry my passport or a copy of my passport with me at all times. Playing the race card to cover for a freeloader is low, even by Tikkun’s standards. I am sure this well published journalist has access to legal help in the US or locally. Weird that a racist embassy employee in the consular section would be placed in an embassy based in Africa.
      Alexander, run a long an race bait elsewhere. Now if you want to help your poor friend, send him some money. Just like a resent the anti Semitism accusations being thrown around lie candy, i resent this form of race baiting.

  3. Belden, Alexander, do your research before you cover for a freeloader and play the race card
    What Do I Need to Replace my Passport Overseas?
    The following list identifies a number of documents/items you should take with you to the embassy/consulate. Even if you are unable to present all of the documents, the consular staff will do their best to assist you to replace your passport quickly. Please provide:
    A Passport Photo (one photo is required; get it in advance to speed the process of replacing your passport)
    Identification (driver’s license, expired passport etc.)
    Evidence of U.S. citizenship (birth certificate, photocopy of your missing passport)
    Travel Itinerary (airline/train tickets)
    Police Report, if available
    DS-11 Application for Passport (may be completed at time of application)
    DS-64 Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport (may be completed at time of application)
    Statement Regarding a Lost or Stolen Passport:
    When you report the loss or theft of your passport, you must complete a statement describing the circumstances under which it was lost or stolen. You can use the U.S. Department of State form DS-64 for this purpose, or simply execute a sworn statement before the consular officer describing what happened.
    Police Report:
    A police report is not mandatory but can help confirm the circumstances of the loss or theft. Don’t spend time obtaining a police report if doing so will cause you to miss a flight or delay your travel unreasonably.

  4. Respectable, truthful, yes, but Belden in fact did a poor job presenting the plight of his journalist friend in Nairobi. First, he used a most pitiful title for his story,,,Help Wanted……and so on. Belden could have called it “Alleged racial bias by Nairobi US Embassy against a Black American journalist”, something like that. The writer also weakened his story when he needlessly revealed that other outlets were not interested in the story and therefore he was dumping at Tikkun. If Belden is not confident of his accounts, he is unlikely to draw intelligent exchange of ideas.
    Having said this, I think the embassy committed a cruel and inhuman act when it refused to certify to a Catholic church organization that the journalist was an American citizens knowing full well that he was a US national. I am not a lawyer but I believe the embassy essentially stripped him of his citizenship and declared him stateless. This is unusual and illegal not only because the journalist is now made unsafe without an ID but that the embassy also seemed bent on ensuring that the Catholic Church did not offer him emergency assistance having been kicked out of his hotel on apparent pressures from the embassy. I don’t care whether this was racism or not. I am concerned about the total disregard for the journalist’s immediate needs having lost all his savings in the South Sudan war, as he states and there is no reason to doubt his veracity.

    • You see, your 2nd paragraph goes the way of Belden. How can the embassy place pressure on the Catholic NGO? Does this journalist not have any other form of identification? He is allegedly a journalist and should naturally be resourceful.He has n contacts other then the inept Belden in the US? I ams sure human rights activist along with a lawyer would love to jump on his plight.. Sounds to me that the journalist found a gullible ears on Belden and Tikkun. No one knows his real story, but we see the race card being played here

  5. Here’s a journalist in distress. he has not paid his hotel bill, therefore cannot get his passport back. One would think tat the obvious thing to do is to raise money to help this poor journalist. But Tikkun can only think of itself. it has never initiated an fundraising effort for anyone but their own selfish selves. Natural disaster victims? No. War refugees? Food panties in the US? NO. Unpaid hotel bills by free loaders? No. Tikkun would rather point the finger and level accusations of racism and demand everyone else spend money on behalf of the needy.

  6. Here’s some good news. The press attention to this case brought the Nairobi hotel to Abraham’s side: they have offered an instalment payment plan enabling him to receive all his personal and professional belongings including his passport.
    Secondly, since the concerned US embassy official has now been removed from his post and has been recalled to the US, Abraham could also obtain a new passport from the embassy itself should he choose to do so.
    Thank you to the readers of this blog who offered constructive advice (I was not seeking money from Tikkun readers for Abraham and he did not receive any). And thank you to Tikkun Daily: publicizing the case here helped.

  7. No body on this planet could call Michael non-hardworking as insinuated by this born-idiot, so called Fred, who has nothing to do except waste time lazing around Tikkun exposing his ignorance and stupidity. There is nothing in this blog to suggest that Michael wanted not to pay his hotel bills. As a business woman, I knew Michael in Juba where he is known as a most diligent and hardworking professional. We all lost a great deal because of the South Sudan war but Michael was affected more severely and there was even an assassination attempt by those who looted his assets and investments and his money. He had lost access to his funds in the chaos and lawlessness that ensued the violent fighting in Juba in December 2013. However, Michael will soon retrieve what has been stolen thanks to his lawyers and the cooperation of the authorities. What a sleazy website.

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