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:
Imprisoned: Main cases
AUNG SAN Suu Kyi (f)
Profession: Leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and writer.
Date of arrest: 30 May 2003
Details of arrest: Taken into ‘protective custody’ following violent clashes between opposition and pro-government supporters on 30 May 2003. The military government reported that four people were killed in the clashes, though eyewitnesses estimate the numbers killed to be over sixty. Many were also injured, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Held under successive house arrest orders in ‘protective custody’ at her home in Yangon until 14 May 2009, when she was taken to the notorious Insein Prison in Yangon. Suu Kyi and two members of her house staff are detained under Section 22 of the State Protection Law for “subversion”, following an incident in which a US citizen reportedly swam across the lake to her home and in doing so violated the ban on her meeting with anyone without prior permission. Her trial began on 18 May 2009 and was subject to numerous delays. On 11 August, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to three years in prison with hard labour. Shortly afterwards, her sentence was reduced to 18 months under house arrest, following a special order from General Than Shwe.
Place of detention: Her home in Rangoon.
Previous political imprisonment/problems: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was held under de facto house arrest for six years from July 1989-July 1995, and again from September 2000 until May 2002, when she was released as part of UN-brokered confidential talks between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) and the NLD which began in October 2000.
Professional details: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 1991. She is the author of many books, including Freedom From Fear (1991), Letters from Burma (1997), The Voice of Hope (1997).
Honorary member of: Canadian and English PEN.
AUNG Than, Zeya AUNG, MAUNG Maung Oo and SEIN Hlaing
Profession: Student activist and NLD member, student, publisher and distributor respectively.
Date of arrest: 29 March 2006
Sentence: 19 years in prison (Aung Than and Zeya Aung), 14 years in prison (Maung Maung Oo) and seven years in prison (Sein Hliang).
Expires: 28 March 2025 (Aung Than and Zeya Aung), 28 March 2020 (Maung Maung Oo) and 28 March 2013 (Sein Hliang).
Details of arrest: Reportedly arrested with 6 others near the Thai-Burmese border town of Myawaddy for publishing an ‘anti-government’ book of poems entitled Dawn Mann (The Fighting Spirit of the Peacock). The peacock is the symbol of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar. Six others also detained in connection with the publishing of the book were freed after a brief detention. Also charged with associating with outlawed organisations and illegally crossing an international boundary.
Details of trial: Convicted by a criminal court in Pegu, north of Rangoon, on 9 June 2006 under the Printers and Publishers Registration Act. The appeals filed by Aung Than and Zeya Aung against their 19 year prison sentences were rejected by the Rangoon high court the same day it was presented, in late November 2006.
Place of detention: All transferred to Insein jail, Rangoon except Sein Hliang, who is still held in Pegu jail.
Health concerns: In November 2008 it was reported that detained poet Aung Than may besuffering from HIV Aids after being allegedly forcibly injected in Insein prison hospital in 2006. Several months later, he reportedly became ill with symptoms typical of HIV AIDS, although this cannot be confirmed as his request to be tested for the disease has been refused. He strongly asserts that he was not suffering from the disease prior to his imprisonment. Sources close to the poet say that he is now in a critical condition.
Honorary member of: American PEN.
Ko AUNG Tun
Profession: Student activist and writer.
Date of arrest: February 1998
Sentence: 13 years in prison.
Expires: February 2011
Details of arrest: At a 1 March 1998 press conference the SPDC claimed Ko Aung Tun had been arrested for ‘collaborating with terrorist groups’. Opposition sources, however, state the real reason for his arrest as being a book he had written on the history of the student movement in Myanmar.
Details of trial: According to an official statement, Ko Aung Tun was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment under the 1962 Printers and Publishers Registration Act, 7 years under the Unlawful Association Act, and 7 years under the Emergency Provisions Act. Sentence thought to be combined as 13 years.
Place of detention: Insein Prison.
Treatment in prison: Reportedly held incommunicado in solitary confinement and has reportedly been ill-treated, including threats and severe beatings.
Health concerns: Said to be in very poor health as a result of ill treatment in prison. Ko Aung Tun is reportedly vomiting blood as a result of his beatings, and is also said to be suffering from severe asthma and tuberculosis. There is serious concern for his safety.
Previous political imprisonment/ problems: Ko Aung Tun was active in the student-led 1988 prodemocracy movement, and was reportedly previously imprisoned from 1990-94.
Other information: Aung Tun is a recipient of the 1999 Hellman/Hammett Award.
Honorary members of: Norwegian, Canberra and Canadian PEN Centres.
U AYE Kyu (aka ‘Monywa’ Aung Shin)
Profession: Former newspaper editor and poet. Senior official of the National League for Democracy (NLD).
Date of arrest: September 2000.
Sentence: 21 years in prison.
Expires: September 2021
Details of arrest: Among five senior NLD officials (including former PEN main case Aung Myint, released under amnesty in January 2005) to be arrested in September 2000. They were detained for writing a statement that to be sent to the authorities protesting the September 2000 house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi (see above) and calling for the release of other NLD members and the re-opening of NLD party offices. All five men were detained two days after the statement was broadcast on a US-based radio station.
Details of trial: Sentenced on 14 September 2000 to 14 years under the press law and 7 years under security legislation. Place of detention: Insein Prison
Health concerns: U Aye Kyu is said to suffer acute asthma.
Professional details: Aye Kyu started to publish poetry in 1962 and was banned from publication in 1988. Also former editor of a banned literary journal.
Previous political imprisonment/problems: Aye Kyu was previously detained from 1967-1970, and served four months in 1990 for his opposition activities.
MAUNG Thura (aka’Zargana’)
D.o.b.: 27 January 1961
Profession: Leading comedian, poet and opposition activist.
Date of arrest: 4 June 2008.
Sentence: 59 years in prison, reduced to 35 years.
Expires: 3 June 2043
Details of arrest: Arrested for leading a private relief effort to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis which struck on 2 May 2008. The Asian Human Rights Commission reported that Zargana had given interviews to overseas radio stations and other media about his work and the needs of the people, and that he had ridiculed state media reports about the effect of the cyclone.
Details of trial: On 14 August 2008 Zargana and journalist Zaw Thet Htwe (see below) appeared at a hearing held at the Rangoon West District Court within the Insein prison precincts, where both were charged. Zargana was charged with seven offences, including under sections 505(b) and 295 of the Criminal Code, section 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act, sections 32(b)/36 of the Video Act and sections 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Act. On 21 November 2008 Zargana was handed down a forty-five year prison sentence for violating the Electronics Act. Days later, on 27 November, he was given a further fourteen-year prison sentence for offences under four sections on the criminal code 17/2, 32(b), 295(a), for his peaceful opposition activities. Zargana was to serve a total of 59-year prison term, but on 13 February 2009 the Rangoon Division Court reduced this term by 24 years to 35 years. His family will appeal against the conviction.
Place of detention: Zargana was initially detained in Insein Prison, but on 4 December 2008 he was transferred to the remote Myitkyina prison, in the northern state of Kachin.
Previous political imprisonment/problems: Zargana is Burma’s leading comedian, popular for his political satires. He spent several years in prison in the early 1990s for his opposition activities. During that time he was taken up as a main case by the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. Zargana, whose pseudonym means ‘tweezers’ andn refers to his years spent training as a dentist, was first arrested in October 1988 after making fun of the government, but freed six months later. However, on 19 May 1990, he impersonated General Saw Maung, former head of the military government, to a crowd of thousands at the Yankin Teacher’s Training College Stadium in Rangoon. He was arrested shortly afterwards, and sentenced to five years in prison. He was held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell in Rangoon’s Insein Prison, where he began writing poetry. One of his prison poems was published in the International PEN anthology This Prison Where I Live. After his release from prison in March 1994, Zargana was banned from performing in public, but continued to make tapes and videos which were strictly censored by the authorities. In May 1996, after speaking out against censorship to a foreign journalist, he was banned from performing his work altogether, and stripped of his freedom to write and publish. On 25 September 2007 he was arrested for his support to the monks demonstrating in the capital, Rangoon. He was released on 18 October 2007.
Health concerns: In late April 2009 it was reported that Zargana had collapsed at Myitkyina prison. He is said to be suffering from heart problems, jaundice and a stomach ulcer which pre-date his current imprisonment. Zargana was taken to Myitkyina Hospital where he underwent some tests, although the specialist medical care he requires is reportedly not available at this hospital. However he is now receiving some medication and in early May was returned to prison. Treatment in prison: Zargana has been denied full family visiting rights.
Other information: On 22 October 2008 PEN Canada presented the ‘2008 One Humanity Award’ to Zargana in absentia. He was also awarded the ‘Imprisoned Artist Prize’, as part of Artventure’s Freedom to Create Prize, on 26 November 2008. His mother died of cancer in late March 2009.
Honorary member of: English, German, Canadian, Swiss-Italian, Sydney, American and Danish PEN.
Date of arrest: 22 January 2008.
Sentence: Two years in prison.
Expires: 21 January 2010
Details of arrest: Arrested for publishing a love poem which cryptically criticized General Than Shwe, the head of Burma’s ruling military junta. The poem, entitled ‘February the Fourteenth’ was published in that week’s issue of the Rangoon-based weekly magazine Love Journal, and is an eight-line verse about Valentine’s Day. 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 spread of the coded message. Dissident writers in Burma have used similar techniques before to get their messages past government censors.
Details of trial: Charged under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code, which refers to ‘intent to cause harm to any section of the public to commit an offence against the State…’. He appeared in court three times, without legal representation. On 10 November 2008 it was reported that Saw Wei had been sentenced to two years imprisonment.
Place of detention: Transferred to Mandalay prison after the trial.
Professional details: Saw Wei is well known for his romantic poems 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 1988 Uprising.
Honorary member of: American PEN.
Date of arrest: 27 November 2007
Sentence: 6 years in prison
Expires: 26 November 2013
Details of arrest: According to PEN’s information, Win Maw was arrested on 27 November 2007 in a Rangoon teashop and charged under article 5 (j) of the penal code with ‘threatening national security’ 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.
Details of trial: On 11 November 2008 it was reported that Win Maw had been sentenced to six years imprisonment for ‘sending false news abroad’. Tried at a special court held inside Insein jail.
Place of detention: Following the trial he was transferred to Mandalay prison.
Health concerns: It was reported on 7 May 2008 that Win Maw had been transferred to the prison hospital after a series of interrogation sessions carried out by officials of the Military Security Affairs. He is said to have suffered suspected collapsed lungs as a result of ‘water torture’, and to have now contracted pneumonia. His family have been denied access to him for over three weeks, and there are grave concerns for his welfare.
Professional details: Win Maw is lead guitarist in the music group Shwe Thansin, which was one of the top bands in Burma in the 1990’s. He was previously imprisoned from 1997-2003 for writing songs in support of Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).
Zaw Thet HTWE
Date of arrest: 13 June 2008.
Sentence: 19 years.
Expires: 12 June 2027
Details of arrest: Arrested whilst visiting his sick mother in the town of Minbu, central Burma, and transferred to an interrogation centre in Yangon. His computer, mobile phone, and personal documents were also confiscated. No details were given to his family about the reason for his arrest or his place of detention. Zaw Thet Htwe had been working with comedian Zargana (see above) and other leading Burmese figures to deliver aid and support to the victims of Cyclone Nargis which struck on 2 May 2008.
Details of trial: On 14 August 2008 journalist Zaw Thet Htwe and comedian Zargana appeared at a hearing held at the Rangoon West District Court within the Insein prison precincts, where both were charged. Zaw Thet Htwe was charged with two offences, under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code, sections 33(a)/38 of the Video Act and section 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act. Days later, on 27 November, Zaw Thet Htwe was given a further four-year prison sentence, making a total of nineteen-year prison term.
Professional details: Zaw Thet Htwe formerly worked as editor of First Eleven Sports Journal, a popular sports journal in Myanmar.
Previous political imprisonment/problems: He was previously arrested in July 2003 on charges of treason following the publication of critical articles in the magazine. He was sentenced to death on 28 November 2003 by a military court in Insein Jail, but on 12 May 2004 the Supreme Court reduced his sentence to three years in prison and he was released in 2005. He also spent several years in detention in the 1990’s for his work with the banned political organisation ‘Democratic Party for a New Society’ which is now operating in exile.
Honorary member of: American PEN.
Imprisoned: Under investigation
*Zaw TUN: Former chief reporter of the journal The News Watch. Reportedly sentenced to two years in prison by the Bahan Township Court on 19 June 2009. Reports say that the charges were for obstructing a public servant in the discharging of his duty. The case dates from September 2008, when Tun was found by a security officer near Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound (see ‘main case’ above), and after being questioned he was arrested. According to the security officer, Tun had responded impolitely to the police questions on the reasons for being near Aung San Suu Kyi’s house. Subsequently, Tun was released on bail, until he learned the sentence in the court hearing.
English PEN calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained in Myanmar in violation of their right to free expression.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/campaigns/campaignforburmesewriters/burmesewritersofconcerntopen/