Jailed Eritrean Poet wins English PEN award

ADDIS ABABA – The free speech organization English PEN has given its 2020 award for International Writer of Courage to the Eritrean poet and newspaper editor Amanuel. Asrat.

Amanuel has not been seen or heard from in 19 years, since he was arrested as part of a clampdown on government critics in his homeland.



He was the editor of the newspaper Zemen at the time. The newspaper was the leading literary newspaper in Eritrea, and helped shape the cultural landscape.

“Almost two decades on from his arrest, Amanuel Asrat is believed to be among the few surviving journalists arrested in 2001, detained in the purpose-built maximum-security prison Eiraeiro,” the award organizers said.

His brother addressed the online ceremony on Monday and one of his poems was read out.

“We, the family of Amanuel Asrat, are very pleased, honoured and humbled to accept this award on behalf of our son and brother,” Daniel Mebrahtu, Amanuel’s brother, said.

“We wish Amanuel was aware of this prize and honor somehow,” he said. “We ask the international community to intervene in his case and other prisoners of conscience in Eritrea, and demand their immediate release”.

He was recommended for the award by the Jamaican-born British poet Linton Kwesi Johnson.

Former winners of the PEN International Writers of Courage include Befeqadu Hailu (2019), Waleed Abulkhair (2018), Mahvash Sabet (2017) and Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury a.k.a.Tutul (2016), among others.

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Featured Image: Amanuel Asrat (R) and Daniel Mebrahtu (L)

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