PEN International is convening its 83rd annual congress under the theme “Reclaiming Truth in Times of Propaganda” in Lviv, Ukraine between 18-22nd of September. Over 200 members from more than 100 centers are participating in the congress.
In its annual congress, PEN International honors jailed writers with empty chairs as reminder of absence of the person during the congress. This year five Eritrean writers are being honored with empty chairs. Those who are holding empty chairs during the congress are: Medhanie Haile, Keste-debena’s former associate editor; Seyoum Tsehaye, freelance journalist and photographer; Amanuel Asrat, former chief-editor of Zemen; Dawit Isaak, former editorial board member and co-owner of Setit; and Idris Said Aba’Arre, freelance journalist and published author of two books. The journalists have been kept incommunicado detention since September 2001 and the Eritrean government has repeatedly ignored to clarify their fates.
The empty chair honor was presented on the 18th of September; a date that coincided with the ban of private newspapers and crackdown in 2001. PEN Eritrea’s executive director, Abraham T. Zere has opened the empty chairs and gave a brief introduction about the five journalists. Abraham further discussed the country’s “steady descent into the abyss” and devaluation of the media
into an echo-chamber. Describing the overall result of having a propaganda-oriented state media and pervasive censorship, he stated, “ As a result, Eritrea transformed into a monotone nation whose entire populace utter the same expressions that had been fed through the national media, literature and art production.”
On the occasion of its 83rd congress, PEN International also issued a statement regarding the fate of Eritrean journalists, stating: “PEN International demands that the fate of all detained journalists be immediately clarified by the Eritrean authorities, by providing proof of life or confirming the circumstances of the reported deaths, and that those still alive should be
released immediately and unconditionally.” Postcards with portraits of the journalists and brief introductions about their cases have been distributed on the occasion.