On International Mother Language Day, PEN International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of imprisoned writer Idris Said Aba Arre
21 February 2018 - Idris Said Aba Arre is a writer, a disabled veteran of the Eritrean war of Independence and a vocal critic of Eritrea’s mother-tongue education policy. He was arrested in October 2001 after denouncing the arrests of the G-15*, a group of politicians detained for publishing an open letter calling for democratic change in Eritrea. Months before his arrest he published his seminal work on mother-tongue education in which he criticised the government's post-independence language policy. The article highlights the government’s tendency to use Tigrinya as the default official language – one of the nine language groups in the country - and the way in which it severely disadvantages members of other language groups.
The article also criticizes the government’s policy of shutting down some schools teaching in Arabic and replacing Arabic with mother-tongue education as the medium of instruction in others. The purported aim of doing this being to establish equality of all nine Eritrean languages – a decision taken by the government with little consultation of Eritrean citizens. Aba Arre warned that the policy would create a two-tier country with a literate and illiterate society, to the detriment of minority language speakers.
The limited information available suggests that Aba Arre was detained in the maximum-security prison Eiraeiro until the beginning of 2016 when he was transferred to an undisclosed location along with other inmates, according to unverified information leaked in February 2016. The authorities have not confirmed this. In late 2017 CPJ reported that the director of the state-owed Eritrean News Agency, responding on behalf of the Ministry of Information to a request for information by CPJ, said that Aba Arre was a member of “the civil service” and “not a journalist”, but did not reply to questions on his whereabouts or other information.
PEN International believes that Aba Arre’s detention is politically motivated and is an attempt by the Eritrean government to stifle critical voices. He was an honorary Empty Chair at PEN International’s world congress in 2017 in Lviv, Ukraine. PEN International continues to call for the immediate release of Aba Arre and urges the Eritrean government to end violations of freedom of expression and the continuing practice of incommunicado detention of writers and journalists without trial.
Write to the Eritrean authorities:
- Protesting the detention of the writer Idris Said Aba Arre on politically motivated grounds and without known charges or trial since 2001;
- Demanding that the fate of Idris Said Aba Arre is immediately clarified by the Eritrean authorities and calling for his immediate and unconditional release;
- Calling on the government to allow all citizens to learn in the language of their choice;
Minister of Information
Hon. Yemane Gebremeskel
P.O. Box 242
+291 124 847
His Excellency, Isaias Afewerki
Office of the President, P.O.Box 257,
Fax: + 2911 125123
Publicity & social media
PEN members are encouraged to:
- Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting Idris Said Aba Arre’s case;
- Organise public events, press conferences or demonstrations;
- Share information about Idris Said Aba Arre and your campaigning for him via social media;
- Suggested tweet: #Eritrea free writer Idris Said Aba Arre held for 17yrs w/o charge #IMLD2018 @pen_int (add link to action paper);
- Suggested tweet: On #IMLD2018 take action for imprisoned writer Idris Said Aba Arre held for 17yrs w/o charge @pen_int #Eritrea (add link to action paper).
For more information on PEN’s work on Aba Arre and Eritrea click here.
For further details please contact Lianna Merner, PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London SE1 2AN | Tel: +44 (0) 207 405 0338 | Fax +44 (0) 207 405 0339 | email: Lianna.Merner@pen-international.org