November 16, 2010

Senior General Than Shwe
Chairman, State Peace and Development Council
c/o Ministry of Defense
Union of Myanmar

Dear General,

On behalf of the 3,500 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to welcome the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the Burmese National League for Democracy, on November 13, 2010. However, we remain concerned about eight other writers still imprisoned throughout Myanmar.

According to our information, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was released unconditionally on November 13, 2010, after her latest house arrest order expired. She spent most of the past 20 years in detention in Yangon, much of which was in solitary confinement. For the past 18 months she was held under Section 22 of the State Protection Law for “subversion” following an incident in which a U.S. citizen swam across the lake to her home and thereby violated the ban on her meeting with anyone without prior permission. She had been held under de facto house arrest for six years from July 1989 to July 1995, and again from September 2000 until May 2002. Aung San Suu Kyi was taken into “protective custody” on May 30, 2003, following a government-sponsored attack on her and her supporters, and was then held under renewable one-year detention orders until her arrest in 2009. 
We would like to call your attention to the estimated 2,000 other political prisoners who are currently held in Burma’s notorious prisons, including eight writers who are serving long sentences simply for exercising their universal right to free expression, as protected under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among these writers are 2010 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner Nay Phone Latt, who is serving a 12-year sentence in Pa-an Prison in Karen state for his blogging activities during the 2008 Saffron Uprising, and Zargana, a leading comedian, actor, and poet, who was arrested in June 2008 after leading a private relief effort to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis. Zargana is serving a 35-year sentence for his outspoken criticism of the government and his opposition activities. He is being held in isolation in Myitkyina Prison, and there are mounting concerns for his health in detention.

PEN American Center welcomes Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s unconditional release. However, there are still roughly 2,000 other political prisoners languishing in prisons across the country, including eight writers detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression, such as Nay Phone Latt and Zargana. We therefore call on you to immediately and unconditionally facilitate the release of all detainees currently held solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

Hannah Pakula                                             
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee           
Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Han Thu
Chargé d’Affaires
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar in the United States
2300 S St. NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 332-4351

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