Burma: Saw Wei Arrested for Valentine’s Poem

 ***UPDATE: English PEN strongly protests the two-year prison sentence handed down to leading poet Saw Wei, for a poem critical of the authorities. For more information, please click here.***

English PEN today remembers and protests the imprisonment of the leading Burmese poet Saw Wei who was arrested last month, on 22 January 2008, for publishing a love poem which cryptically criticised General Than Shwe, the head of Burma’s ruling military junta.

The poem, entitled ‘February the Fourteenth’ was published in the Rangoon-based weekly magazine Love Journal, and is an eight-line verse about Valentine’s Day (see unofficial English translation below). However, when the first letters of each line of the poem are put together, they read ‘General Than Shwe is crazy with power’ in Burmese. The weekly magazine quickly sold out as word of the coded message spread.

Saw Wei’s wife, Nan San San Aye, attempted to see her husband in Insein prison on 28 January 2008, but was denied access to him. No information has been made public about any charges against him, and he continues to be detained incommunicado.

Saw Wei is well known for his romantic poetry and is also a performance artist. Until the time of his recent arrest, he headed the ‘White Rainbow’ poetry recital group, a group of artists and writers working to raise money for AIDS orphans. In 1988, he was dismissed from his job at the Government Communication Office for taking part in the popular pro-democracy uprising of that year.



A major crackdown in Burma has been underway since early September 2007, following demonstrations led by monks and pro-democracy activists beginning on 19 August 2007. Writers and journalists are among the scores of people to have been detained. Nearly all of the writers arrested in the crackdown in September 2007 are now thought to have been freed, but many remain under heavy restriction and the authorities are continuing to crackdown on any expressions of dissent.

Dissident writers in Burma have long used similar techniques to get their messages past Government censors. In 2007, the English language Myanmar Times was ordered to suspend publication for a week after unwittingly carrying an advert that appeared to be an invitation to Scandinavian tourists to visit Burma under the heading ‘Ewhsnahtrellik’, which backwards spelt ‘Killer Than Shwe’.
February 14th by Saw Wei (unofficial translation)


Arensberg said:
Only once you have experienced deep pain
And madness
And like an adolescent
Thought the blurred photo of a model
Great art
Can you call it heartbreak.
Millions of people
Who know how to love
Please clap your gilded hands
And laugh out loud.







Friends and members of English PEN are urged to write to the Myanmar representative in London protesting the arrest and incommunicado detention of Saw Wei, which appears to undermine Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (The poets among our members may wish to compose their own acrostics, in support of Saw Wei and the writers of Burma, and send them either to the Embassy in protest and/or to writersinprison@englishpen.org)

Appeals to:
His Excellency HE U Nay Win
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
19A Charles Street
Berkeley Square
London W1J 5DX 

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/burmasawweiarrestedforvalentinespoem/

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