June 12, 2008

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
Fax: (202) 332-4351

His Excellency U Kyaw Tint Swe
Ambassador/ Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Permanent Mission of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations
10 East 77th Street
New York, NY 10021
Fax: (212) 737-2421

Your Excellencies,

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 concern regarding the arrest of poet Maung Thura (“Zargana”).

According to our information, Zargana, a leading comedian, poet, and opposition activist, was arrested on the evening of June 4, 2008, after police raided his home in Yangon. Although no reason has been given for his arrest, he is believed to be held for leading a private relief effort to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck on May 2, 2008. Since May 7, Zargana has worked on cyclone relief and has given interviews to overseas-based radio stations and other media about his work and the needs of the people. He has also ridiculed state media reports about the cyclone’s aftermath and has organized over 400 volunteers to work in some 42 villages that had been neglected since the cyclone struck. Zargana is the first leader of local relief efforts to be detained, although there have been reports that local journalists trying to cover the issue have been briefly detained or threatened.

This is not the first time that Zargana has been detained. He was a leading voice of the student pro-democracy movement, and spent several years in prison in the early 1990s for his opposition activities. On September 25, 2007, Zargana was arrested for publicly supporting the monks demonstrating in Yangon; he was released on October 18, 2007, and then briefly detained again a few days later.

PEN American Center believes the arrest of Zargana to be in direct violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Myanmar has signed. We therefore respectfully call for his immediate and unconditional release, as well as the release of all those currently detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression and association. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Hannah Pakula                   
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee   

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

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