NEW YORK—PEN America is delighted that poet Maung Saungkha has been released from prison today in Myanmar but is deeply concerned by remaining barriers to free expression in the country.

On November 5, 2015, Maung Saungkha was arrested and accused of defaming former president Thein Sein under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law because he referenced having a tattoo of the president on his penis in a poem posted on Facebook. Today, a Myanmar court found Saungkha guilty and sentenced him to six months in prison. However, since Saungkha was detained for over six months while awaiting trial, he was released even though the conviction still stands. He is one of the first writers to be convicted and sentenced since the landmark democratic election in 2015, which ended 50 years of military rule and resulted in a landslide victory for members of the National League for Democracy.

“PEN calls on newly elected President Htin Kyaw, who is a fellow writer, to protect the right to freedom of expression, a crucial pillar of any true democracy,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN. “The government must repeal the Telecommunications Law and other legislation outlined in PEN’s 2015 report on free expression in Myanmar, Unfinished Freedom, that perpetuate a repressive legal framework with which to chill speech and punish citizens for simply expressing themselves.”

Though PEN welcomes Maung Saungkha’s release, his arrest and conviction cast serious doubts on the ability of the democratically elected government to protect the right to freedom of expression in Myanmar. The military-drafted constitution allows the junta to retain power over the judiciary, which has turned the courts and legislation, particularly the Telecommunications Law, into tools to stifle dissent and free expression. In the past few months since Maung Saungkha’s arrest, several other individuals have also been charged under this law.

###

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression at home and abroad. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. www.PEN.org

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: +1 646-779-4830, sedkins@pen.org