Freedom for detained poet reaps int’l clamor

THE world’s oldest international literary organization, the PEN International, heightened its call to release Filipino poet Ericson Acosta and other imprisoned writers in various worldwide activities observing the PEN’s Day of the Imprisoned Writer last November 15.

For the past three months, detained poet Ericson Acosta, 40, has been receiving serious threats from state elements. Acosta, his family, visitors and supporters, have also been subjected to various forms of harassment – from text warnings of a planned assassination, rumors of an armed rescue plot, and outright intimidation.

Acosta’s supporters in Calbayog City, and his elderly parents, Isaias and Liwayway Acosta in Manila receive the same death threats via SMS. For more than a year, Acosta, his family and visitors, have been directly intimidated by the military camp-out at the Calbayog civilian jail where he is detained.

The PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee has expressed serious concern on the prolonged detention without trial of Ericson Acosta. Acosta was arrested in San Jorge Samar in February 2011 because the laptop he carried roused the suspicion of soldiers. Since last year, various PEN Centers in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Australia and the United Kingdom have mounted activities in support of Ericson Acosta’s release. Other prominent organizations, like the Amnesty International and the International People’s Art Network, have also called for Acosta’s release.

In Manila, the PEN’s Philippine Center led by National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera mounted a writers’ forum today at the University of the Philippines. The local Writers in Prison Committee has put together literary contributions from different writers groups in Metro Manila, Baguio, Davao, and Samar; as well as appeals from artists, human rights advocates, international solidarity groups and Filipino communities from all over the world.

The Day of the Imprisoned Writer is an annual, international day intended to recognize and support writers who resist repression of the basic human right to freedom of expression. This year, PEN International highlights the cases of Regina Martínez, a Mexican journalist (murdered); Shiva Nazar Ahari, journalist, human rights activist and blogger (Iran); Muharrem Erbey, a human rights lawyer and writer from Turkey; Eskinder Nega, a journalist and blogger (Ethiopia); and Ericson Acosta, a Filipino poet, songwriter and activist.

The AFP in Calbayog suddenly deployed three more squads last week to supposedly foil plots of an armed rescue mission. The military camp-out right beside the Calbayog Sub-Provincial jail upon Acosta’s detention has been transferred to another area, allegedly for the purpose of preventing the same rescue operation. These patchy military suspicions are used by authorities to justify repression in Calbayog and other neighboring towns in Samar.

Yet the clamor for Ericson Acosta’ release has only gained more popular support from fellow artists. Local youth rock bands have frequented the Calbayog jail to jam with Acosta, and provide guitar riffs for his compositions. Band members were individually confronted by military elements in most unlikely places like internet cafes. But still, Acosta’s music echoed in the latest youth rock event held on November 10 in the largest university in the city. Last week, 30 writers from a National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)-sponsored writers’ workshop visited the jail. The writers held a short program filled with solidarity messages that ended in a highly-emotional group singing of “Bayan Ko.”

Acosta’s 79-year old father laments, “Our petition for review before the DOJ (Department of Justice) has been pending for more than a year now, when it should only take 60 days for them to issue a resolution. Why is my son being kept in prison?” Acosta’s colleagues from Philippine PEN assert that “His [Acosta’s] commitment to shared ideals can never be a basis for his imprisonment. The writer must create, imagine, speak truth to power.”

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