Frontlist | Eritrean poet Amanuel Asrat honoured with International Writer of Courage

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Asrat was arrested in September 2001 as part of a crackdown on the private media. It has been 19 years since then and he is still detained and remains incommunicado

Eritrean poet Amanuel Asrat has been named International Writer of Courage by Linton Kwesi Johnson. Asrat was arrested in September 2001 as part of a crackdown on the private media, and it has been 19 years since then and he is still detained and remains incommunicado. The announcement of the honour was made by Linton Kwesi Johnson who won the PEN Pinter Prize 2020, stating that he shares his prize with Asrat. Former editor of literary newspaper Zemen, Asrat was instrumental in making poetry relevant as an art form.

“Keeping a citizen incarcerated, incommunicado, without charge or trial for nearly 20 years is the kind of egregious brutality that we associate with totalitarian states and dictatorships. As a gesture of solidarity from a poet of the African diaspora, I have chosen the Eritrean poet, songwriter, critic, and journalist Amanuel Asrat as the Writer of Courage for 2020,” Johnson was quoted as saying in a report in the Bookseller.

“We, the family of Amanuel Asrat, are very pleased, honoured and humbled to accept this award on behalf of our son and brother, Amanuel Asrat. Many thanks to English PEN and Mr Linton Kwesi-Johnson. Amanuel is suffering under the harsh conditions of the Eiraeiro dungeon in Eritrea for 19 years and counting. His whereabouts are not known. We don’t even know whether he is alive or dead. We wish Amanuel was aware of this prize and honour somehow. We ask the international community to intervene in his case and other prisoners of conscience in Eritrea, and demand their immediate release. Thank you for the recognition, for your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your constant support. We really appreciate it,” Daniel Mebrahtu, Amanuel Asrat’s brother was quoted as saying in the report.

Cat Lucas, Writers at Risk programme manager at English PEN further said, “We are honoured to be able to recognise Amanuel Asrat and his work with the PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage 2020. We remain hopeful that this year will finally see him released and reunited with his family after almost two decades apart. In the meantime, we hope that our PENWrites campaign will provide an opportunity to raise greater awareness of his situation, to amplify calls for his release, and to continue to show our support for him and his family.”

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