New York, NY, April 11, 2002—PEN American Center today named Aung Myint, a Burmese poet serving a 21-year prison term for distributing a press release to foreign diplomats and press, and Tohti Tunyaz, an ethnic Uighur historian and writer condemned to 11 years in prison for researching his people’s history in the People’s Republic of China, as recipients of its 2002 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards. The awards, which honor international literary figures who have been persecuted or imprisoned for exercising or defending the right to freedom of expression, will be presented at PEN’s Annual Gala on April 24, 2002 at the Pierre Hotel in New York City.

Distinguished writer, historian, and PEN member Barbara Goldsmith underwrites the two awards at $20,000 per year. Candidates are nominated by International PEN and any of its 129 constituent PEN Centers around the world and screened by PEN American Center and an Advisory Board comprised of some of the most distinguished experts in the field. The Advisory Board for the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Awards includes Carroll Bogert, Communications Director of Human Rights Watch; Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists; Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation; Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Vice President of International PEN; and Aryeh Neier, President of the Open Society Institute.

On September 14, 2000, poet Aung Myint and his assistant Kyaw Sein Oo were arrested by members of Myanmar’s Military Intelligence Service for distributing information about persecution of National League for Democracy figures to international press agencies and Western diplomats based in Rangoon. The charges specifically related to a press release he and his assistant issued a few hours after NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested by security forces as she was trying to leave the city in September 2000. Mr. Aung was charged with violating the State Protection and Emergency Provision Acts and on December 20, 2000 was sentenced by a military court to 21 years’ imprisonment. His assistant was tried separately under the Printers and Publishers Registration Act and sentenced to seven years in prison.

A leading representative of the so-called Second Line poets – the second generation of poets following Burmese independence – Aung Myint is known for poems illuminating the daily lives of the people. In the 1980s he worked as a civil servant and contributed articles and poems for the official newspaper Botahtaung, the now-banned magazine Pay-ful-lwa (The Message), and Cherry, where he served as assistant editor beginning in 1988. He was also active in the NLD, and in 1997 was jailed for two years for his work as the party’s head in Bahan Township. Myanmar authorities fired him from his position at Cherry and prohibited him from returning to his post when he was released, reportedly banning his name from all Burmese publications. He was working as an information officer at NLD headquarters in Rangoon, where he was in charge of literary postings, at the time of his arrest in 2000. He is married to a successful fiction writer and has a daughter who is also a well-known writer and actress. Mr. Aung is serving his 21-year sentence in Insein prison and is scheduled to be released on September 13, 2021.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org