…As PEN international marks 40th anniversary with launch of annual Day of the Imprisoned writer campaign

By Elizabeth Osayande

Acclaimed writer, Ben Okri has written a letter of solidarity to the 12 Eritrean writers imprisoned incommunicado since 2001, noting that they are heroes of humanity for standing against injustice.

The solidarity letter is coming as PEN international is set to launch its annual day of imprisoned writer campaign, as part of activities marking its 40th anniversary.

Part of Okri’s letter made available to Vanguard read: “It is with a bold heart that I write you. Your cause has given us fire and courage. You have been in detention without trial or contact with the outside world for 20 years. You have been deprived of doctor’s treatments and the visit of your families.

” And you are enduring all this because you had the humanity and the love for your people to speak the truth about what is happening in your beloved Eritrea. Let there be no mistake about it: you are heroes of humanity. It is people like you who are the real benefactors of your nation. You are its light and its hope.

“Your courage is an inspiration to us all. You fight for the most essential quality of the human spirit, which is freedom. Without it we are worse than animals. What am I saying? Animals do not imprison one another. A nation without freedom is hell on earth. Your struggle to make your nation just is one of the great struggles of life.

“We salute you and we are fighting for you out here. We cannot begin to imagine what you are going through, what difficulties, what deprivation. We do not even know if most of you are alive. But to us you are more alive than ever, burning your truth into our minds with the silence of your incarceration.” Nigerian prize winner said.

Listing activities to mark PEN 40th anniversary, President, PEN Nigeria, Folu Agoi noted that PEN will feature the cases of : Maykel Osorbo (Cuba); Selahattin Demirtaş (Turkey); Rahile Dawut (China – Xinjiang); Mohammed Al-Roken (UAE) and the collective case of 12 writers imprisoned incommunicado since 2001 (Eritrea).

He stated that : ” The Day of the Imprisoned Writer work, established in 1981 by PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, is an opportunity for the PEN movement to take action on behalf of writers in prison and ensure that they and their families are supported and not forgotten.

“PEN Centres and members worldwide advocate for the featured writers, with activities ranging from letter-writing and panel discussions, to press conferences and publishing their work. PEN’s supporters engage in activities such as raising awareness of their situation and taking action on social media, or in the form of donations. Writers send solidarity letters to their colleagues in prison or under threat.

” This campaign is a collective case for Eritrean journalists, writers, poets and government critics: 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; Matheos Habteab.

” It is 20 years since they were arrested and detained without trial and with no contact with their families, lawyers, or doctors.” Agoi explained.

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