PAN Calls for the Release of Imprisoned Eritrean Writers
15 Nov 2015
The PEN African Network (PAN), the coalition of PEN International centres in Africa, calls on His Excellency, Isaias Afewerki, President of Eritrea, and the Hon. Minister of Justice Fawzia Hashim, to immediately clarify the fate of all journalists detained by the Eritrean authorities and to release those still alive immediately and unconditionally.
PAN furthermore calls on the member nations of the African Union, and its Chairperson, Her Excellency Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, to exercise diplomatic pressure on the Eritrean Government to honour its human rights obligations towards its own citizens, and immediately and unconditionally to release all detained journalists
PAN further protests the detention of poet and journalist Amanuel Asrat on politically motivated grounds and without known charges or trial since 2001. Asrat is being commemorated as one of the five PEN International “empty chairs”, writers imprisoned for resisting repression of the basic right of freedom of expression, which includes the freedom of the press.
PAN lastly wishes to express concern for the health of Asrat and the other detainees, 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 custody.
In July 2001, the Eritrean government embarked upon a campaign to silence its critics, arresting opposition politicians, students and many journalists. As part of this crackdown, Amanuel Asrat was arrested on 23 September 2001; on the same day and the following days most editors and journalists of privately-owned newspapers were also arrested. During subsequent years, other journalists have been detained without being charged.
Fourteen years later, the situation of Asrat and the other detainees is still unclear. None of the journalists have been charged, nor presented to the court of law nor allowed legal assistance and family visits. After fourteen years in detention, their whereabouts and fate is unknown.
In a country where prison conditions are among the most severe – prisoners are regularly held in the desert in metal shipping containers or underground cells – there are grave concerns for their well-being.
The limited information available suggests that Asrat is detained in the maximum security prison, Eiraeiro, north of Asmara. PEN International believes that his detention with the others, is politically motivated and is an attempt by the Eritrean government to stifle critical voices.
The journalists and writers still believed to be detained, with Amanuel Asrat, are Ghebrehiwet Keleta, Idris Aba’Are, Seyoum Tsehaye, Yosuif Mohammed Ali, Said Abdelkadir, Medhanie Haile, Dawit Isaak, Dawit Habtemichael, Matheos Habteab, Temesegen Ghebereyesus, Fessaheye Yohannes “Joshua”, Sahle Tseazagab “Wedi-Itay” Saleh “Idris “Aljazeeri”, Hamid Mohammed Said “CNN”, Jim’ie Kimeil, Sultanyesus Tsigheyohannes, and Abubeker Abdelawel Abdurahman.
In order for any democracy to be functional, the freedom of the press, as part of the larger freedom of expression of all citizens, must be protected.
The following PEN Centres are members of PAN:
PEN Sierra Leone
PEN South Africa