The Empty Chair Day: Stanislav Aseyev
On Friday, November 15, PEN America participated in the Day of the Imprisoned Writer: the Empty Chair Day to support Ukrainian journalist Stanislav Aseyev, who has been held hostage by the Russian-supported rebels in Donbas since June 2, 2017. On October 22, 2019, the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) “sentenced” Aseyev to 15 years in prison.
PEN America and a number of partners in New York, Washington D.C., Toronto, London, and Kyiv expressed their support for Aseyev with readings, rallies, and special events. The Day of the Empty Chair is a longstanding tradition of presenting an empty chair to symbolize and honor a writer who cannot be present because they have been imprisoned, detained, disappeared, threatened, or killed.
PEN America President Jennifer Egan, alongside writers and journalists Gary Shteyngart, Ann Cooper, Askold Melnyczuk, Tom Kent, Victoria Amelina, and Lev Golinkin, took turns and continued readings to draw attention to the human rights violations in Donbas and to remember Stanislav Aseyev and those other writers and journalists currently persecuted as a result of Russia-Ukraine war.
The same day, several PEN America supporters and partners joined the #FreeAseyev campaign by organizing similar events in Ukraine, Canada, and Great Britain. Events in Kyiv and Lviv featured readings and performances by Ukrainian journalists, writers, musicians, and human rights defenders, including the President of PEN Ukraine Andrei Kurkov.
In Toronto, the Postcards for Prisoners project together with the Ukrainian Canadian Research and Documentation Centre and St. Vladimir Institute organized writing cards to Aseyev to send to his family. At the same time, Ukrainian filmmaker and writer Oleg Sentsov, who has been recently released after spending more than five years in Russian penal colonies, called up to free Aseyev and other Ukrainian political prisoners during his meeting with supporters in London.
PEN America and many supporters around the world used the hashtag #FreeAseyev in social media to join the global campaign calling for the release of hundreds Ukrainian political prisoners currently held in Russian prisons.