Visit PEN International's website

This is a site-wide search. If you’re looking for specific collection pieces, please use Search the Collection.


PEN Case (1983): Mansur Rajih – Yemen, Imprisoned

Mansur Rajih in 2007

© AmigoDia, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


Mansur Rajih was born in North Yemen in December 1958.  He attended the University of Aleppo in Syria between 1978 and 1980 to study agriculture, and then went to the University of Beirut from 1980 till 1982 to study business administration.

Also a poet, Rajih was active in student politics and held the positions of President of the Yemeni Student Union and Secretary General of the Organisation of Arab Students. He also became active in The National Democratic Front (a coalition of Yemeni opposition parties).

In 1983 Mansur Rajih was arrested and sentenced to death after being convicted of the murder of a local man. The charge was generally seen as politically motivated and the trial was condemned by Amnesty International as being unfair.  

Rajih was incarcerated for fifteen years and eventually released in 1998. His wife, who had been allowed to leave Yemen earlier, was a tireless campaigner for his release, working closely with International PEN who sent missions to Yemen where writers met with the government to appeal for his release. He joined his wife in Stavanger, Norway, where he was an International City of Refuge Network (ICORN) guest writer. He continues to write and publish poetry collections, novels and essays and his life has been subject to several short films.

Writing Sample

The authorities choose the swampish road

Their language is force

They want to make a prison for the people

not a country

Love turns away:

Friendship turns away

as do all forms of compassion

Nothing remains

of life’s visage

but authority:



The drums of war

And the trees are fading in the distance

From A Moment of War

© 2006 Mansur Rajih
© 2006 ICORN Webzine

Useful links

International City of Refuge Network biography of Mansur Rajih:

Amnesty International comment on Rajih’s trial (1992):