#WorldPoetryDay2017: TAKE ACTION FOR IMPRISONED POETS!

4654257115_aab01d4e37_b‘Poetry – with its ancient history, its musicality, and its attention to symbol and metaphor – runs through all of us. Rooted in oral tradition, poetry is deeply connected to our collective humanity. And poetry is also a resilient and longlasting political tool that has been used worldwide by dissident voices calling out for change.

At PEN it’s impossible for us to celebrate World Poetry Day without also recognising that there are those for whom speaking out in verse has resulted in imprisonment. This year we are highlighting the cases of three such poets: Amanuel Asrat, Dareen Tatour, and Liu Xia. We urge you to take action today and to join us in appealing for justice for each of them. Details of how to speak out can be found below.

This World Poetry Day, PEN International is also honoured to share our Conversation with Enoh Meyomesse. Just two years ago Enoh Meyomesse was one of the poets for whom – on World Poetry Day – we urged you to take action. Now he has been released and lives in Germany where he continues to write poetry, full of characteristic refrains and inspired by his political surroundings. It brings us great joy to share with you his reflections on creativity, imprisonment, and the power of poetry.’

 

Jennifer Clement
President, PEN International

 

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Take Action for Amanuel Astrat!

Award-winning Eritrean poet, critic and editor-in-chief of the leading newspaper ዘመን (Zemen, The Times), Amanuel Asrat, was arrested at his home on the morning of 23 September 2001 amid a crackdown on state and private media. It is believed that he is being held without charge or trial. The limited information available suggests that Asrat was detained in Eiraeiro prison until the beginning of 2016 when he was allegedly transferred from the maximum-security prison to an undisclosed location along with other inmates, according to unverified information leaked in February 2016. PEN International believes that Asrat’s detention is an attempt by the Eritrean government to stifle critical voices, including calls for establishing constitutional government.

In September 2001, the Eritrean government embarked upon a campaign to silence its critics, arresting opposition politicians, students and many journalists. As part of this crackdown, Amanuel Asrat was arrested on 23 September 2001, along with nine other independent journalists, among them the editors of all privately-owned newspapers. Two other writers were subsequently arrested in October 2001. Fifteen years later, the situation of Asrat and the other prisoners is still unclear.

It is unknown whether charges have been brought against them and even if any trial has taken place. There are severe health concerns as the detainees are believed to have been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including lack of access to medical care, as highlighted by the reported deaths of seven journalists in custody. Asrat is believed to be among the few surviving journalists; unconfirmed reports allege that only five of the twelve are still alive, but are in deteriorating health conditions. On 20 June 2016, in an interview with RFI, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Eritrea claimed that all of the journalists and politicians arrested in 2001 are alive and ‘in good hands’, though no proof has been provided by the Eritrean government nor any information as to the prisoner’s whereabouts. In the same interview, the foreign minister said that these men would be tried ‘when the government decides’.

Please send appeals:

  • Protesting the detention of poet and journalist Amanuel Asrat on politically motivated grounds and without known charges or trial since 2001;
  • Expressing concern for Asrat’s health as detainees are believed to have suffered ill treatment, probably torture and lack of access to medical care, as highlighted by the reported deaths of seven journalists;
  • Demanding that the fate of all detained journalists be immediately clarified by the Eritrean authorities and that those still alive should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Appeals to:

President
His Excellency, Isaias Afewerki
Office of the President,
P.O.Box 257,
Asmara, Eritrea
Fax:  + 2911 125123

Minister of Information
Hon. Yemane Gebremeskel
P.O. Box 242
Asmara, Eritrea
+291 124 847
Twitter: @hawelti

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Eritrea in your country if possible. Details of some Eritrean embassies can be found here.

Social Media

Suggested tweet:

  • Free #Eritrea Poet Amanuel Asrat held without charge for 15 years for politically motivated reasons #FreeAsrat #WPD2017 @pen_int {insert link to PEN action paper}
  • On #WPD2017 take action for poets imprisoned for exercising their right to #FOE {insert link to PEN action papers}

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting Amanuel Asrat’s case;
  • Organise public events, press conferences or demonstrations;
  • Share information about Amanuel Asrat and your campaigning for him via social media

dareen

Take Action for Dareen Tatour!

Poet Dareen Tatour – a Palestinian citizen of Israel – is currently standing trial on charges of “support for a terrorist organisation” and several counts of incitement to violence in connection with her poetry and social media activity. After reviewing the charge sheet and the evidence against her, PEN has concluded that Dareen Tatour has been targeted for peaceful exercise of her right to free expression.

Tatour’s arrest at her home in Reineh, a small town near Nazareth, on 11 October 2015 came amidst a wave of violent attacks on Israeli citizens, and a corresponding crackdown by the Israeli authorities, which saw its officers given greater opportunity to open fire. She is currently under house arrest until the conclusion of her trial on charges of “support for a terrorist organisation” (under articles 4(b) + (g) of the Prevention of Terror Ordinance-1948) and several counts of incitement to violence (under article 144(d) 2 of the Penal Code-1977). The charges relate to a video, which Tatour posted on YouTube in which she recites one of her poems entitled, ‘Qawim ya sha’abi, qawimhum (Resist, my people, resist them).’  In the video, the poem is set to music against a backdrop of video footage of Palestinian resistance – as men throw rocks at the Israeli military. At the time of her arrest, the video had been viewed a mere 113 times, according to news sources.

Tatour also faces charges in connection with two Facebook posts. In the first, on 4 October, Tatour remarks upon an apparent call by Islamic Jihad – a banned terrorist organisation – to form a continuation of the intifada. She goes on to call for an intifada. The term intifada may broadly be understood as resistance. The second Facebook post to have aroused the suspicions of the authorities – dated 9 October 2015 – is a photograph of Isra’a Abed, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, who was shot by security officers while carrying a knife in a train station. Tatour reports that she did not believe at the time that Isra’a Abed was in possession of a knife on the basis of the photograph. The image reportedly appeared alongside Tatour’s profile photo which said “I will be the next martyr,” in solidarity with others protesting the murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir.

A hearing scheduled for 6 September 2016 was postponed after the translator declared a conflict of interest and withdrew, prolonging Tatour’s trial by a further two months. During subsequent hearings in November 2016, the court relaxed some of the requirements of her house arrest; while she still has no access to the internet, she is no longer required to wear and ankle monitor and is now able to leave the house to travel to work, however, she is required to be with a chaperone at all times. The next hearings are due to take place in March and April 2017 during which time witnesses for the defence will be heard, including an expert in translation from Arabic to Hebrew.

Please send appeals to the Israeli authorities:

  • Urging them to release Dareen Tatour from house arrest immediately and unconditionally;
  • Calling on them to drop all charges against her as she is being held solely for her peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of expression.

Write to:

Minister of Justice
Ayelet Shaked
Ministry of Justice
29 Salah al-Din Street Jerusalem, 91010, Israel
Fax: +972 2 628 5438
Email: sar@justice.gov.il Salutation:
Dear Minister
And copies to: Attorney General
Avichai Mendelbilt
Ministry of Justice
29 Salah al-Din Street Jerusalem 91010, Israel
Fax: +972 2 530 3367
Email: ishkat-yoetz@justice.gov.il

Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Israel in your country.  A list of embassies can be found here: http://www.allembassies.com/israeli_embassies.htm

Publicity:

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting Dareen Tatour’s case;
  • Organise public events, press conferences, poetry readings or demonstrations;
  • Join the Translation and Linguistic Rights Committee in translating her poetry, available in the original Arabic here and other languages here;
  • If you have not already done so, consider signing this petition for Tatour: https://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/dareen/;

Solidarity:

Consider adopting Dareen Tatour as an Honorary Member of your Centre.  Details of how to campaign for honorary members may be found in the Writers in Prison Committee Handbook, available here.

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Take action for Liu Xia!

Liu Xia, China, is a poet, artist, and founding member of the Independent Chinese PEN Centre. She has been held in her Beijing apartment without access to phones, Internet, doctors of her choice, or visitors since her husband, imprisoned poet Liu Xiaobo, was named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010.

There are reports that Liu Xia’s mental and physical health are suffering due to her detention. She is reportedly suffering from severe depression and in February 2017 a rare phone call made to a friend has raised particular concern for her current mental state.

PEN International believes that the ongoing, extra-judicial house arrest of Liu Xia is a form of punishment for the human rights work carried out by her husband, Liu Xiaobo, and is extremely concerned for her physical and psychological integrity.

SEND APPEALS:

  • Send appeals to the Chinese authorities calling for the immediate and unconditional release from house arrest of the poet and artist Liu Xia, and calling for all restrictions on her freedom of movement to be lifted;
  • Calling for Liu Xia to be granted access to all necessary medical care;
  • Urging the authorities to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which provides for freedom of legitimate expression, and freedom of movement and reminding them that as a signatory to the ICCPR China is obliged to ‘refrain from acts that would defeat or undermine the treaty’s objective and purpose.’

Addresses:

His Excellency Xi Jinping

President of the People’s Republic of China

State Council

Beijing 100032

P.R. China

Fax: +86 10 6238 1025

PEN strongly recommends that you also send or, if possible, personally deliver the appeal to the Chinese embassy in your country asking them to forward it to the Chinese authorities and welcoming any comments – see below for guidance.

You may find it easier to write to the Chinese ambassador in your own country asking him or her to forward your appeal. Most embassies are obliged to forward such appeals to the relevant officials in the country.  A letter or petition signed by an eminent member of your Centre may make it more likely for your appeal to be considered. Similarly if your appeal is published in your local press and copied to the Chinese ambassador, this too may have greater impact.

You can find the contact details of the Chinese embassy in your country here.

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