I’m stuck where to start. I’m also anxious that I’m knowingly writing you a letter you cannot receive or respond to. I hope that, one day, though you may be the last person to do so, you will read it.
Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu
Today, 26 July 2021, is the 50th birthday of Eritrean poet and editor Amanuel Asrat. One of PEN’s longest-standing cases of concern, he remains imprisoned and incommunicado in Eritrea, nearly 20 years after he was first arrested.
To mark Amanuel Asrat’s birthday, we are honoured to feature a specially commissioned essay from award-winning writer and member of PEN Eritrea, Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu, on our online magazine PEN Transmissions.
Amanuel Asrat has been a key case of concern for English PEN for many years. In 2020 he was announced as the winner of the PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage by fellow winner and poet Linton Kwesi Johnson:
Keeping a citizen incarcerated, incommunicado, without charge or trial, for nearly twenty 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 2020.
Watch the full ceremony here.
Amanuel Asrat is also the first featured writer in the PENWrites campaign, our international letter-writing campaign in solidarity with writers in prison and at risk around the world. Since launching the campaign in October 2020, we have gathered over 100 messages of support to share with his family. His brother, Daniel Asrat Mebrahtu, has written to express his thanks for this ongoing support:
It is so amazing to receive the most comforting and uplifting letters. Words cannot express how grateful we are to be aware that there are many people standing in solidarity with us and our brother. I have gone through and been touched by each word on every letter. Many thanks to English PEN for all you are doing for our brother and thank you for putting the awesome letters together.
To mark Amanuel Asrat’s 50th birthday, we hope that you will join us in sending messages of solidarity to his family, to show them that he has not been – and will not be – forgotten.