Amanuel Asrat and Linton Kwesi Johnson

Eritrean poet Amanuel Asrat was selected by Jamaican-British poet Linton Kwesi Johnson as the co-winner of the 2020 PEN Pinter Prize, named after the Nobel-Laureate and playwright, Harold Pinter.

Johnson was awarded the prize because, as the judges remark, “his political ferocity and his tireless scrutiny of history are truly Pinteresque, as is the humor with which he pursues them.”

It is customary for the PEN Pinter Prize winner to share the prize with an International Writer of Courage who, according to the English PEN website, is “someone who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs.”

Johnson named Eritrean poet and journalist, Amanuel Asrat, the 2020 International Writer of Courage at the PEN Pinter Prize Ceremony on October 12, 2020.

Amanuel Asrat, poet, critic, and former editor-in-Chief of the literary newspaper, Zemen, was detained without charge in 2001 by the Eritrean government alongside other editors, journalists, and critics of the Eritrean government. Though Asrat has not been seen since the arrest, he is believed to be held in a maximum security prison in northern Eritrea according to The Guardian.

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Daniel Mebrahtu, Asrat’s brother, accepted the award on his behalf, stating:

We, the family of Amanuel Asrat, are very pleased, honoured and humbled to accept this award on behalf of our son and brother, Amanuel Asrat. Many thanks to English PEN and Mr. Linton Kwesi-Johnson. Amanuel is suffering under the harsh conditions of the Eiraeiro dungeon in Eritrea for 19 years and counting. His whereabouts are not known. We don’t even know whether he is alive or dead. We wish Amanuel was aware of this prize and honour somehow. We ask the international community to intervene in his case and other prisoners of conscience in Eritrea, and demand their immediate release. Thank you for the recognition, for your thoughts and prayers. Thank you for your constant support. We really appreciate it.

Amanuel Asrat is one of the featured writers for the PENWrites campaign which sends letters of solidarity to imprisoned writers around the world.

Click here to learn more about Amanuel Asrat and the PENWrites campaign.