DOIW 2021 – Take Action for Detained Eritrean Writers

Names     Occupation
Dawit Isaak      Writer, journalist, and playwright 
Amanuel Asrat     Journalist, poet, art critic, and song writer 
Said Idris ‘Abu Are’     Writer, journalist, and translator
Temesegen Ghebreyesuy     Journalist, comedian, actor
Methanie Haile     Journalist and lawyer 
Fessehaye ‘Joshua’ Yohannes    Writer, journalist, and playwright
Yousif Mohammed Ali    Journalist 
Seyoum Tsehaye    Journalist 
Dawit Habtemichael     Journalist 
Said Abdelkadir     Journalist 
Sahle ‘Wedi-ltay’ Tsefezab    Journalist
Matheos Habteab    Journalist


Twenty years ago, in September 2001, the Eritrean authorities launched a massive crackdown on regime critics. As part of the crackdown, on 18 and 19 September, the security forces arrested and detained 11 out of 15 dissenting members (commonly known as the G-15) of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PDFJ), on charges of committing crimes against national security and sovereignty. The G-15 had earlier published an open letter in which they denounced the President’s abuse of power and presented his actions as ‘illegal and unconstitutional’.

On 18 September, the authorities also shut down all independent newspapers in the country, including the weeklies Meqaleh, Setit, Tsigenay, Zemen, Wintana and Admas which were closed down for publishing the G-15’s open letter and conducting media interviews on the issues raised in the letter. On 21 September twelve journalists, all associated with the banned independent media outlets, were rounded up by security forces and detained. Some of these journalists are also writers, poets, translators, playwrights, songwriters and art critics. The Eritrean authorities have held them and the G-15 members in incommunicado detention without access to family members, lawyers or independent doctors, and without trial, for two decades.

Over the years, there have been unverified reports that several of the detainees died in custody due to ill-treatment and neglect. The Eritrean authorities have ignored calls by human rights organizations and regional and international human rights mechanisms for justice for the detainees, with official denials of the clampdown in 2002. The authorities also claimed that the writers and journalists had merely been sent to carry out their national service, and that all those arrested in 2001 are alive without providing proofs to substantiate these claims.

Eritrea is a militarized authoritarian, single party state that has been consistently ranked as one of the worst countries for freedom of expression in the world, with independent media banned since 2001.  Virtually all critical voices (journalists, writers, poets, playwrights, musicians, artists, dissenting politicians) are arbitrarily detained for indefinite periods, disappeared, forced to flee into exile or subjected to extrajudicial killings. Its democratic constitution, which guarantees the freedoms of speech and the press, was ratified in 1997 but not instituted. Eritrea has not held national elections since independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and the Transition National Assembly, which was established to act as the legislative body until national elections are held, has not met since 2002.

Take Action

PEN International considers the continued arbitrary and incommunicado detention of Eritrean journalists, writers, poets and government critics a violation of their human rights, including their right to freedom of expression, personal liberty, and life. The Eritrean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Dawit Isaak; Amanuel Asrat; Said Idris ‘Abu Are’; Temesken Ghebreyesus; Methanie Haile; Fessehaye ‘Joshua’ Yohannes; Yousif Mohammed Ali; Seyoum Tsehaye; Dawit Habtemichael; Said Abdelkadir; Sahle ‘Wedi-ltay’ Tsefezab; and Matheos Habteab.

This is what you can do:


Write a letter or e-mail to the Eritrean authorities

  • Write a letter or e-mail to the Eritrean authorities calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all journalists, writers, poets, and government critics detained without trial and held incommunicado since 2001, for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Here is a sample letter you can adapt
  • Spread the word about the case of the detainees. Encourage others in your network to write letters and e-mails calling for their immediate and unconditional release

Please send letters and emails to:

President of Eritrea H.E. Isaias Afewerki:

  • Postal address: Office of the President, P. O. Box 257 Asmara, Eritrea
  • Fax : + 2911 125123
  • E-mail : (through the Eritrean Permanent Mission to the United Nation) [email protected]

and through:

The Minister of Information Hon. Yemane Gebremeskel:

  • Postal address: P.O. Box 242 Asmara, Eritrea
  • Tel: +291 124 847
  • Twitter: @hawelti

Social Media

Raise awareness about the Eritrean journalists, writers, poets, and government critics detained without trial and held incommunicado for 20 years using the sample messages below and the hashtags #FreeEritreanWriters #ImprisonedWriter:


  • For twenty years, the Eritrean authorities have detained 12 journalists, writers, and poets incommunicado and without trial for their legitimate and peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression. Their safety and health situation remains unknown. Today, I join PEN International in calling for their immediate and unconditional release. Please help #FreeEritreanWriters by sharing this message #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • As PEN International commemorates the Day of the #ImprisonedWriter this week, I take action to #FreeEritreanWriters. Please write a letter or send an e-mail to the Eritrean authorities urging them to immediately and unconditionally free the writers. Support freedom of expression [insert link]


  • Today I join @pen_int in calling on the Eritrean authorities to #FreeEritreanWriters imprisoned since September 2021 for their peaceful expression of dissenting views. Please support their case by sharing this message RT #ImprisonedWriter [insert link]
  • As @pen_int commemorates the Day of the #ImprisonedWriter this week, I take action to #FreeEritreanWriters. Please write an appeal to the Eritrean authorities urging them to immediately and unconditionally free the writers. Support freedom of expression [insert link]

Please share this graphic on social media together with your messages.


We also encourage you to:

  • Write and publish articles and opinion pieces in your local and national press to highlight the case of arbitrarily detained Eritrean journalists, writers, poets, and government critics detained incommunicado and without trial since 2001
  • Organize public events, e.g., press conferences, public forums, exhibitions, demonstrations to highlight their case

Please read and share The Scourge of War, a poem by imprisoned writer Amanuel Asrat

Something growled

Something boomed

Invading the calm

It echoed.

… Stuck

Where two brothers pass each other by

Where two brothers meet

Where two brothers join

In the piazza of life and death

In the gulf between calamity and culture

In the valley of anxiety and peace

Something boomed.

While the chia and seraw acacias spat at each other

Sorghum and millet cut each other down

With no one to collect them they feed on one another,

Until a single seed remains …

Brimming with tears

Being chopped—hacked

Sowed unto itself.

… planted

In earth yet to gush In that indiscernible thing

Stream of blood and water,

The seed …

Assailed by:

The freezing sun

Tempestuous nimbus cloud

Grayish lightning

Scalding rain …

Slipping through littered iron

Climbing onto the spirit of death

Shouldering its sterile life

Here, it has grasped at spring.

The seed …

Arrived on its own

From the blood and water yet to gush

Whose and to whom unascertained

Its tributaries unidentifiable

When it parted that spring

But in that spring …

When the seed looked to the right

He was a man, it was a beard

When it looked to the left

He was the earth, it was a seed

Bewildered… it fed on amazement

Tempted … but joining forces is not like it

Who should it stick with, where should it lurk

Who should it win over or be thrown at

But that spring’s dirtiness is its ugliness

It plowed with the beak of bullet

Spilled infinite lives Swept breath

Reaped death with death

Threshing it on the shoulders of our offspring

Finally bruised the fruit in distrust.

For the fruit …

When day and night became one

Anxiety and calm mingled

A world within a world

War within peace

Trust in betrayal’s backdoor

It sunk in bewilderment.

Is it not bewildering?

The scourge of this spring of war

After a mother’s tear for her children

The clan’s tear for its time

The earth’s tear for the earth

Flowed and flowed like a stream

Soon the earth became wet and muddy

The property, mired

Entrapping all … robbing them Then the shovel and the pick were produced

And the shroud and the stretcher sprang up

But …

How fast everything is used up and everyone scrambles for it

All of us crave and own it

The ugliness of this thing, war

When its spring arrives unwished-for

When its ravaging echoes knock at your door

It is then that war’s curse brews doom

But … You serve it willy-nilly

Unwillingly you keep it company

Still, you pray so hard for it to be silenced!

Amanuel Asrat (1999). Translated from Tigrinya by Tedros Abraham in collaboration with David Shook (2015)

Please keep us informed of your actions. Messages can be sent to Nduko o’Matigere, Africa Regional Programme Coordinator: [email protected].