December 3, 2008

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

Your Excellency,

On behalf of the 3,300 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to condemn the additional 14-year sentence handed down to leading comedian and poet Maung Thura (aka Zargana).

According to our information, Zargana, who was sentenced to 45 years in prison on November 21, 2008 for violating the Electronics Act, received an additional 14-year prison term on November 27 for offenses under four sections of the criminal code: 17/2; 32 (b); 295 (a); and 505 (b). This brings his total sentence to 59 years. He was arrested on the evening of June 4, 2008 after leading a private relief effort to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis. Zargana is believed to have been sentenced for his outspoken criticism of the government’s slow response to the cyclone, as well as his peaceful opposition activities.

PEN American Center is deeply shocked by the harsh prison sentence imposed on Zargana, and believes his conviction to be part of wide crackdown against dissent in direct violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. We therefore renew our call for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all others currently detained in Myanmar solely for peaceful expression of their views.  

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Program

CC: His Excellency U Myint Lwin
Chargé d’Affaires
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar to the United States
2300 S St. NW
Washington, DC 20008

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