PEN is appalled at reports that have emerged last weekend regarding the sickening killing of Myanmar poet Khet Thi by the military junta. PEN condemns the abhorrent use of violence against unarmed civilians and continues its call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained by the military junta.
On the night of 8 May 2021, Khet Thi (real name, Zaw Tun), along with his wife and a relative, were forcibly taken from his home in the Sagaing region by junta forces and initially detained at a local police station. Khet Thi was then reportedly separated from his wife and taken to a nearby military facility where he was tortured to death.
When his wife was released from the police station the following morning, she was told to go to Monywa Hospital under the assumption that Khet Thi was still alive and recovering from injuries sustained during the interrogation. However, she then learned that he had died during the interrogation. Upon seeing his body at the morgue, she noted that ‘his internal organs were taken out’, according to comments she made to BBC News Burmese Service.
The Myanmar junta arrested Khet Thi but they will not restrain his spirit. They dismembered his body but cannot touch his ideas. They took him away but returned only his body. They thought that will silence him but his words will resound across Myanmar and beyond. “They shoot in the head,” he wrote, “but they don’t know the revolution is in the heart.” Soon after the coup, Khet Thi had written, “If I have only a minute to live, I want my conscience to be clean for that minute.” His conscience was always clean; his tormentors, the generals who have temporarily usurped power, have shown that they have none. We will remember Khet Thi for his courage, and the generals for their cruelty and cowardice, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Khet Thi is one of at least 781 unarmed civilians, including fellow poets K Za Win and Myint Myint Zin, who have now been killed by the military junta since they seized control of Myanmar on 1 February 2021. A former engineer who most recently made a living selling ice cream, Khet Thi used his poetry to encourage others to resist the military junta’s increasingly brutal repression. Regularly seen on the frontline at protests in the Sagaing region, one of Khet Thi’s best-known lines of poetry will continue to inspire others in the days to come, ‘They shoot us in the head, but they don’t know the revolution dwells in our hearts.’
The entire PEN community mourns the death of Khet Thi and we will celebrate his life through his poetry. Below is an English translation of Khet Thi’s poem, Survival Memo (translated by SML):