NEW YORK—The conviction of three individuals by a Myanmar court for the purported crime of posting a Facebook image depicting Buddha wearing headphones is an unjustified attack on free expression that has no place in a democracy, PEN American Center said today.

Two managers and the owner of a Yangon pub were sentenced to two years in prison under Myanmar’s religion act, which criminalizes insults to religion. As soon as staff learned that the image posted on Facebook had caused offense, the bar apologized and took down the image, but the three men were arrested after hard-line Buddhist groups protested. PEN America said the conviction and sentences were absurd, and demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the men.

“No society can endure without the ability to laugh at itself and accept a certain measure of humor and even ridicule,” said PEN American Center Executive Director Suzanne Nossel. “For an obviously comical image posted briefly on Facebook to be grounds for a prison sentence evokes the darkest face of intolerant dictatorship, the very opposite of the openness and respect for rights that Myanmar’s government claims to embrace in its transition toward greater democracy. Myanmar’s government needs an urgent reminder of its free expression obligations, and also needs to learn how to take a joke.”

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S. writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide.

CONTACT
Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director: 646-779-4810, snossel@pen.org
Sarah Edkins, Communications Manager: 646-779-4830, sedkins@pen.org