Breaking through the Silence


Tomorrow, Thursday 9 July at 7.30pm, English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee will be holding our major fundraising event for this year, Breaking through the Silence at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster.


In collaboration with the John Armitage Memorial Trust, we will be presenting an evening of music and spoken word, in honour of persecuted writers worldwide, with a special emphasis on Burma. 


Acclaimed conductor Nicholas Cleobury will conduct the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, as they perform Michael Tippett’s Five Negro Spirituals, Adam Gorb’s Thoughts Scribbled on a Blank Wall (words by former hostage John McCarthy) and Timothy Jackson’s No Answer (words by Chris Abani) which was commissioned by English PEN in 2002.


Alongside the music, a group of special guests including Ruth Padel, Jo Brand, Carole Seymour-Jones, Reece Shearsmith and Clarissa Dickson-Wright, will be reading from the work of persecuted Burmese writers, including Aung San Suu Kyi and Zargana, whilst Timberlake Wertenbaker will be giving the keynote address.


The evening will be an extremely powerful and moving event.  It is also an opportunity to show your solidarity and support for Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently being subjected to a show trial in Burma.


How to Book


Tickets cost £15 – £20, or £5 for students. They are available online at  Alternatively, you can call the PEN office on 020 7324 2535, where a member of staff will be delighted to process your order over the phone.


We look forward to seeing you there!




English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is deeply concerned about the many writers currently detained in Burma in violation of their right to free expression. Cases of particular concern include the following:

Aung San Suu Kyi

On 14 May 2009, Nobel Peace Prize Winner and leader of the National League for Democracy Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with breaching the conditions of her house arrest. The charge relates to a US citizen who reportedly swam across the lake to her home and in doing so violated the ban on her meeting with anyone without prior permission. Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 20 years in detention. Her latest term under house arrest was due to expire at the end of May 2009 and it seems that the military junta is looking for a legal pretext to keep her detained. Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial began on Monday 18 May 2009, and she could face up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Maung Thura (aka ‘Zargana’)

Leading comedian, poet and opposition activist Zargana was arrested on 4 June 2008, after leading a private effort to deliver aid to Cyclone Nargis’ victims. On 14 August 2008, Zargana appeared at a hearing held at the Rangoon West District Court within the Insein prison precincts, where he was charged with seven offences. On 21 November 2008, he was handed down a staggeringly harsh sentence of forty five years for having violated the Electronics Act, and less than a week later was given an additional fourteen-year prison term, bringing his total sentence to fifty-nine years. On 13 February 2009 Zargana’s prison sentence was commuted by twenty-four years. He must now serve thirty-five years in prison for his peaceful opposition activities and criticism of the government.
Zaw Thet Htwe


Journalist Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested on 13 June 2008 whilst visiting his sick mother in the town of Minbu, central Myanmar, and transferred to an interrogation centre in Yangon. He had been working with comedian Zargana and other leading Burmese figures to deliver aid and support to the victims of Cyclone Nargis. On 21 November, Zaw Thet Htwe was sentenced to fifteen years in prison under the Electronics Act. Days later, on 27 November, he had his sentence increased by an additional four years, bringing his total sentence to nineteen years in prison.

Win Maw


On 11 November 2008, leading Burmese musician Win Maw was sentenced to six years imprisonment for ‘sending false news abroad’ after sending news reports and video footage to the Norway-based Democratic Voice of Burma radio station during the protests in August and September 2007. He was arrested on 27 November 2007 in a Rangoon teashop and charged with ‘threatening national security’. He has since been held in Insein prison, in Myanmar’s capital city Rangoon.


Saw Wei

On 10 November 2008, Saw Wei was sentenced to two years imprisonment for his poem entitled ‘February the Fourteenth’, published in the Rangoon-based weekly magazine Love Journal.  Saw Wei’s piece, published in the January 2008 issue of the magazine, was shaped as a love poem which cryptically criticized General Than Shwe, the head of Burma’s ruling military junta. 

English PEN is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Zargana, Zaw Thet Htwe, Win Maw, Saw Wei and all those currently detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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