Senior General Than Shwe
Chairman, State Peace and Development Council
c/o Director of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI)
Ministry of Defense, Signal Pagoda Road, Dagon Post Office
Yangon, Union of Myanmar
Fax: +95 1 652 624

Your Excellency:

We would like to address you on a matter that is important to all our hearts and minds.

When Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for leading Burma’s non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights, she was under house arrest and unable to travel to Oslo to accept the prize. Dozens of our colleagues, writers and journalists who had also dedicated themselves to the cause of freedom, were either already in jail or destined for arrest. Thirteen years later, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is again under house arrest in Yangon.  A crackdown on peaceful political activity that included an attack on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s motorcade in May 2003 continues, and out of 1,400 political prisoners languishing in the prisons of Myanmar, at least 19 are writers or journalists.

We are profoundly disturbed by the open, unchecked, and accelerating suppression of the internationally-acclaimed peaceful movement for democracy in the Union of Myanmar, and by the denial of freedom of expression–and in many cases, physical freedom–to our fellow writers. We are urgently concerned for the welfare of all who are currently prosecuted simply for exercising their essential right of freedom of speech and expression.

If a single political prisoner, if writers, journalists and other citizens cannot discuss the future of their country without fear, all announcements of political reform lack credibility. All historical experience teaches us that freedom of speech and free and open public debate cannot stand at the end of a road to democracy, but must be at the very beginning of any meaningful reform.

The changes in Central and Eastern Europe, in the Republic of South Africa and elsewhere have proven that a peaceful and orderly transition to democracy is possible. That the people of Myanmar share the same desire for freedom was evident in 1990, when they voted overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates. That this desire remains strong despite years of systematic repression was made vividly clear by the crowds that spontaneously assembled to hear Daw Aung San Suu Kyi before she was rearrested last May. 

We demand the unconditional release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and writer; and other imprisoned writers including our colleagues Aung Myint, Aung Tun, Myo Htun, Khin Zaw Win, Kyaw Sein Oo, Ohn Kyaing, Sein Hla Oo, and Win Tin; and all other writers and artists who have been jailed for their nonviolent efforts to promote democracy in the Union of Myanmar.


Vaclav Havel    

Jiri Grusa   
President, International PEN

J. M. Coetzee           Imre Kertesz            V. S. Naipaul            Wole Soyinka
Nadine Gordimer      Naguib Mahfouz       Kenzaburo Oe          Wislawa Szymborska
Günter Grass           Czeslaw Milosz          José Saramago 
Seamus Heaney       Toni Morrison          Claude Simon  

Recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature