This World Poetry Day Help Free Imprisoned Eritrean Poet and Journalist, Amanuel Asrat

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Amanuel Asrat, is an award-winning Eritrean poet, critic, songwriter, and editor-in-chief of the leading newspaper ዘመን (Zemen, meaning The Times), has been detained incommunicado for over 16 years. Asrat was arrested at his home on the morning of 23 September 2001 amid a crackdown on state and private media. Other independent journalists, opposition politicians and students were also arrested during the crackdown. It is believed that Asrat and the other journalists have neither been charged nor tried.

Asrat is thought to be among the few surviving journalists from the 2001 crackdown, alive but in deteriorating health. Unconfirmed reports allege that some of the journalists have died, having been subjected to torture or other ill treatment, including lack of access to medical care. The limited information available suggests that Asrat was detained in the maximum-security Eiraeiro prison until the beginning of 2016. According to unverified information leaked in February 2016, he was then allegedly transferred to an undisclosed location along with other inmates. The Eritrean authorities have not confirmed this.

Asrat, who received the 2016 Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression, is credited for the resurgence of Eritrean poetry in the early 2000s. Along with two friends, he created a literary club called ቍርሲ ቀዳም ኣብ ጠዓሞት (Saturday’s Supper) in 2001. This club kindled the emergence of similar clubs in all major Eritrean towns. His writings tackle subjects ranging from the daily life of the underprivileged to conflict and war. Unlike most popular Eritrean wartime poetry, his work provides a negative insight into conflict.

His award-winning poem ኣበሳ ኲናት (The Scourge of War) alludes to the border dispute with neighbouring Ethiopia as it describes the blood shed by two brothers. In 1999, the poem was awarded one of Eritrea’s most prestigious literary and artistic awards by the state-run National Holidays Coordinating Committee, which noted the uniqueness of Asrat’s poem for standing firmly against war. The newspaper ዘመን (Zemen/The Times) where he worked became the leading literary newspaper in Eritrea and was run by a circle of critics who helped shape the cultural landscape of the country.

PEN has long campaigned on behalf of Amanuel Asrat and most recently highlighted his case by featuring an ‘Empty Chair’ in PEN International’s 83 Congress in Lviv, Ukraine. For International Translation Day on 30 September 2015, PEN members from around the world translated ኣበሳ ኲናት (The Scourge of War) into over a dozen languages, all of which can be viewed here.

PEN International believes that Asrat’s ongoing detention is an attempt by the Eritrean government to stifle critical voices, including calls for establishing constitutional government. We call for his immediate release and the end to violations of freedom of expression in Eritrea.

Take Action:

Send appeals to the Eritrean government:

  • Protesting the detention of poet and journalist Amanuel Asrat on politically motivated grounds and without known charges or trial since 2001;
  • Expressing concern for Asrat’s health as detainees are believed to have suffered ill treatment, probably torture and lack of access to medical care;
  • Demanding that the Eritrean authorities immediately clarify the fate of all detained journalists and release immediately and unconditionally those still alive

Write to: President
His Excellency Isaias Afewerki
Office of the President
P.O.Box 257
Asmara, Eritrea
Fax:+ 2911 125123

Minister of Information Hon. Yemane Gebremeskel
P.O. Box 242
Asmara, Eritrea
+291 124 847
Twitter: @hawelti

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Eritrea in your country if possible. Details of some Eritrean embassies can be found here.

Social Media
Suggested tweets:

  • Free #Eritrea Poet Amanuel Asrat held without charge for 16 years for politically motivated reasons #FreeAsrat #WPD2018 @pen_int {insert link to PEN action paper}
  • On #WPD2018 take action for poets imprisoned for exercising their right to #FOE {insert link to PEN action papers}

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting Amanuel Asrat’s case;
  • Organise public events, press conferences or demonstrations;
  • Share information about Amanuel Asrat and your campaigning for him via social media.


Consider adopting Amanuel Asrat as an Honorary Member of your Centre. Details of how to campaign for honorary members may be found in the Writers in Prison Committee Handbook, available here.

For more information on PEN’s work on Asrat and Eritrea click here.

For further information please contact Liana Merner: | t. + 44 (0) 20 7405 0338 | PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill Mews, London, SE1 2AN

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