Imprisoned Writers: Amanuel Asrat (Eritrea)

Where two brothers pass each other
Where two brothers meet each other
Where two brothers conjoin
In the piazza of life and death
In the gulf of calamity and cultivation
In the valley of fear and peace
Something resounded.

The ugliness of the thing of war
When its spring comes
When its ravaging echoes knock at your door
It is then that the scourge of war brews doom
You serve it willy-nilly
Unwillingly you keep it company
Still, for it to mute how hard you pray!
‘ኣበሳ ኲናት (The Scourge of War)’ by Amanuel Asrat, translated by Tedros Abraham

Award-winning Eritrean poet, critic and editor-in-chief of the leading newspaper ዘመን (Zemen, meaning The Times), Amanuel Asrat, was arrested at his home on the morning of 23 September 2001 amid a crackdown on state and private media. It is believed that he is being held without charges or trial. The limited information available suggests that Asrat is detained in the maximum security prison, Eiraeiro, north of Asmara. PEN International believes that Asrat’s detention is politically motivated and is an attempt by the Eritrean government to stifle critical voices, including comment on its conflict with Ethiopia.

Amanuel Asrat is credited for the Eritrean poetry resurgence of the early 2000s. Along with two friends, he created a literary club called ቍርሲ ቀዳም ኣብ ጠዓሞት (Saturday’s Supper) in 2001. This club set a precedent for the emergence of similar literary clubs in all major Eritrean towns. Asrat is also a well-known poet and songwriter. His writings dealt with subjects ranging from the daily life of the underprivileged to war and peace topics. His work provided a negative insight towards conflict, an uncommon approach among popular Eritrean wartime poetry.

His award-winning poem ኣበሳ ኲናት (The Scourge of War) alluded to the then ongoing border dispute with neighbouring Ethiopia, describing the blood shed by two brothers. In the summer of 1999, the poem was awarded a prize by the National Holidays Coordinating Committee, run by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice which organises official celebrations, commemorations and festivals around the country. The prize given is regarded as one of the most prestigious in Eritrea in terms of literary and artistic awards. The committee outlined the uniqueness of Asrat’s poem for standing sharply against war.

The newspaper ዘመን (Zemen, meaning The Times) where Asrat worked, had become the leading literary newspaper in the country and was run by a circle of critics who helped shape the cultural landscape of the country. His work in the newspaper was well-known as Asrat was the most popular art critic of his time in the country.

Please send appeals:

  • Demanding that the fate of all detained journalists be immediately clarified by the Eritrean authorities and that those still alive should be released immediately and unconditionally.
  • 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, as highlighted by the reported deaths of four journalists in;

Appeals to:

His Excellency, Isaias AfewerkiOffice of the President,P.O.Box 257,Asmara,EritreaFax:  + 2911 125123
Minister of Justice
Hon. Minister of Justice Fawzia Hashim
P.O.Box 241
Fax: + 291 1 126422

/ PEN international

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