New York City, May 26, 2010—PEN American Center welcomed the release of imprisoned Burmese poet Saw Wai today, calling the release “long overdue.” Saw Wai was freed nearly five months after his sentence expired and two and a half years after he was sent to prison for “inducing crime against public tranquility” for one of his poems.

Saw Wai was arrested on January 2, 2008, after his poem “February the Fourteenth,” an eight-line verse about Valentine’s Day, was published in the Rangoon-based weekly magazine Love Journal. An acrostic poem, when the first letters of each line are put together, they read “General Than Shwe is crazy with power” in Burmese. The magazine quickly sold out as word of the coded message spread.

“While we are pleased that Saw Wai 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. “Of course, Saw Wai should never have been in prison in the first place, as his only ‘crime’ was writing a poem. Now, as Myanmar prepares for important elections this year, the world is watching to see if the junta follows the rule of law and releases the many other writers, journalists, and bloggers still imprisoned in that country today, including Nay Phone Latt.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession.

Sarah Hoffman, (212) 334-1660 ext. 111
Larry Siems, (646) 359-0594