(NEW YORK) — PEN America has condemned Myanmar authorities for detaining Htein Lin, the Burmese artist and former political prisoner, and  Vicky Bowman, the former British ambassador to Myanmar,on arbitrary charges and called for their immediate release in Yangon. The married couple were charged with immigration offenses, and sent to Myanmar’s notorious Insein prison. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

“The arbitrary and sudden arrests of Vicky Bowman and Htein Lin are yet more examples of the sweeping and abusive power that the military junta has wielded since its violent and illegal seizure of power in February 2021,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “We are deeply concerned for the safety of Vicky Bowman and Htein Lin and call for their immediate release.”

Htein Lin is a celebrated artist and activist who previously spent more than six years in prison between 1998 and 2004 for his opposition to the rule of the military junta in the country. Since the military coup in February 2021, artists have been increasingly targeted for their activism and participation in peaceful protests, with PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index reporting that 26 writers were detained in 2021, a significant increase from the previous year. Earlier this month, the military junta executed several pro-democracy activists for the first time in thirty years, including rapper and former lawmaker Phyo Zayar Thaw-

PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. ARC recently released Arresting Art: Repression, Censorship and Artistic Freedom in Asia, a publication on the state of artistic freedom in Asia, as well as a limited series podcast, Creating Artistic Resilience: Voices of Asia, featuring interviews with artist-activists from Asia, including an episode with Spring, an activist and multimedia artist from Myanmar.

If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. 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. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057