May 7, 2009

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 express our serious concern for the well being of comedian and poet Maung Thura (aka Zargana), who is serving a 35-year sentence.

According to our information, Zargana, age 48, recently collapsed at the Myitkyina Prison, Kachin State, northern Myanmar, where he is being held. Zargana was subsequently transported to Myitkyina Hospital where he underwent several tests. However, Myitkyina Hospital is not capable of providing the specialized medical treatment he requires. Zargana is said to be suffering from heart problems, jaundice, and a stomach ulcer, and he has repeatedly been denied full access to family visits.

Zargana was first arrested on the evening of June 4, 2008, after leading a private relief effort to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis. Many believe that he was sentenced due to his outspoken criticism of the government’s slow response to the cyclone, as well as his peaceful opposition activities. On November 21, 2008, Zargana was sentenced to 45 years’ imprisonment for violating the Electronics Act. He received an additional 14 years’ imprisonment under four sections of the Myanmar Criminal Code on November 27, 2008. His sentence was reduced by 24 years on February 13, 2009, by the Rangoon Division Court.

PEN American Center is deeply concerned that Zargana’s conviction is part of widespread crackdown against dissidents in direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. We urge that Zargana be granted full access to specialized medical treatment, and renew our call for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all individuals currently detained in Myanmar solely for the peaceful expression of their political 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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