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In the lead-up to International Mother Language Day 2016 (21 February) PEN is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of writer Idris Said Aba Arre

Idris Said Aba Arre has been held without known charges or trial, incommunicado, since his arrest in 2001.

Idris Said Aba Arre has been held without known charges or trial, incommunicado, since his arrest in 2001.

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 Education in Mother-tongue: Between the Anvil of Popular Rejection and the Hammer of the Academic of the Ministry [of Education] – 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 as the medium of instruction in others  with mother tongue education, under the purported aim of establishing 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.

Since his arrest in 2001 he has been arbitrarily detained, incommunicado, in a secret location. PEN International believes that Aba Arre’s detention is politically motivated and is an attempt by the Eritrean government to stifle critical voices.

PEN International calls 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.

Take Action

Please send appeals:

  • 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;

Appeals to:

Minister of Justice
Hon. Minister of Justice Fawzia Hashim
P.O.Box 241
Fax: + 291 1 126422
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 15yrs w/o charge #IMLD2016 @pen_int (add link to action paper);
  • Suggested tweet: On #IMLD2016 take action for imprisoned writer Idris Said Aba Arre held for 15yrs w/o charge @pen_int #Eritrea (add link to action paper).


Born in 1953 in Semhar province, Aba Arre was known for his critical thinking, his public readings and his seminars on the history of the Eritrean independence struggle.  After the liberation war of Eritrea came to an end in 1991, Aba Arre was reportedly assigned to the newly established Ministry of Foreign Affairs and alongside his duties regularly contributed to the government-run Arabic daily newspaper, Eritrea al-Haditha.  Aba Arre also freelanced for the independent newspaper ጽጌናይ (Tsigenay), and published a collection of short stories in Arabic in 1992.

He was a vocal critic of the government’s post-independence language policy particularly the way in which it dealt with mother-tongue education. He argued that the policy disadvantaged non-Tigrinya speakers who would see their own language as a poor substitute for the country’s default official language – Tigrinya. In one of the last articles he wrote before his arrest, he stated that the government’s language policy was creating more inequality among the different linguistic groups in the country and was impacting negatively on the education of minority language speakers. You can read the full article here.

‘The strange thing about the matter is that every time the discontent and contempt resurface, the stubbornness of the ministry grows.’

The government reportedly blacklisted him for his writing and on 11 October 2001, Aba Arre was arrested at his home and has been held, incommunicado, without charge or trial ever since.

Since the government crackdown on dissent in September 2001,there has been no freedom of opinion or expression, no independent media, no registered political parties apart from the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and no national elections in the country.

According to recent estimates, as many as 10,000 Eritreans have been detained for their criticism or opposition of the government since 2001 with at least 28 journalists still in detention. As many as nine journalists and nine politicians may have died in custody due to torture and other ill treatment, harsh conditions and lack of medical treatment.

PEN International calls on the Eritrean government to release all prisoners detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, to respect international human rights standards relating to the treatment of prisoners, to re-establish an independent media  and to provide complete transparency on the whereabouts, health and legal status of all detained journalists, writers and activists.

*G-15 group – 11 politicians arrested for writing an open letter calling for democratic change. All the signatories of the letter were members of the G-15, a group of senior officials from the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

For further details please contact Lianna Merner, PEN International, Koops Mil, 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



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