Burma: Arbitrary Jail Terms

by Brian Honigman    /  June 23, 2010  / No comments


Nay Phone Latt before imprisonment
Photo: © Asia Observer

On May 26th, Burmese poet Saw Wei was released from prison five months after his sentence had ended. Wei had been imprisoned in Burma for two and a half years after “inducing crime against public tranquility” through one of his published poems.

The poem, entitled ‘February the Fourteenth’ was published in the Rangoon-based weekly magazine Love Journal, 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 of the coded message spread.

Wei is lucky to have been released from prison. “While we are pleased that Saw Wei was finally released today, we are profoundly disappointed that officials kept him in prison more than four months after his sentence was due to expire,” said Larry Siems, Freedom to Write and International Programs Director at PEN American Center.

However, not all Burmese prisoners were as lucky as Wei. Prominent blogger Nay Phone Latt, was sentenced to 20 years after the government discovered a cartoon depicting junta leader Snr-Gen Than Shwe in one of his e-mails. Latt’s jail time was reduced by eight years, but with the prison system’s past record of inconsistent sentences there is no certainty when Latt will truly be released.

In April 2010, Latt won the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award for his dedication to the National League of Democracy in Burma. PEN awards this honor to people “who have fought courageously in the face of adversity for the right to freedom of expression,” according to PEN’s website.

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