(NEW YORK) — PEN America on Tuesday called for the immediate release of filmmaker Ma Aeint, following her sentencing on April 30, by a court in Yangon, Myanmar to three years of imprisonment with hard labor. She was arrested on baseless charges of “causing fear, spreading fake news or agitating against government employees,” which PEN America condemned as another example of the government’s ongoing crackdown on artistic expression through spurious criminal charges.

“The sentencing of Ma Aeint to three years imprisonment with hard labor should be understood as part of a broad and deliberate effort by Myanmar’s military officials to silence and punish artistic voices, as part of the junta’s bid for control,” said Julie Trébault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) at PEN America. “Ma Aeint has already been subjected to a nearly year-long pretrial detention in inhumane conditions. This sentence represents additional abuse that the military has chosen to heap on her, demonstrating the ways that the country’s criminal justice system is being employed as a weapon against Myanmar’s artists, poets, filmmakers and other creatives who dare to speak their mind in the face of the junta’s coercive rule. We are deeply concerned by this state of affairs in Myanmar and call for the immediate release of Ma Aeint. Moreover, we demand the repeal of provisions such as Article 505 (A) of Myanmar’s criminal code, which are flatly inconsistent with international guarantees of free speech and expression.”

Although not explicitly mentioned in the charges, Ma Aeint likely became a target of the government due to her involvement in the film “Money has Four Legs,” a satirical comedy about the life of a filmmaker facing censorship in Myanmar and the sociopolitical realities in the country, which was produced in 2020 and was exhibited in several film festivals in Myanmar prior to the military coup in 2021. Ma Aeint was arrested on June 5, 2021 and later detained in Myanmar’s infamous Insein Prison, known for being “notoriously overcrowded and disease-ridden,” with her trial reportedly occurring in prison court there.

Following delays to her hearing due to COVID-19, on Friday, April 30, Ma Aeint pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching Article 505 (A) of Myanmar’s criminal code, which penalizes “causing fear, spreading fake news or agitating against government employees.” She is also alleged to have given money to an organization that opposed the February coup.

According to PEN America’s 2021 Freedom to Write Index, Myanmar accounted for the single-largest increase of writers and public intellectuals newly jailed for exercising free expression, due to the military junta’s crackdown on influential voices.

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