Leading Poet Saw Wai Arrested for A Poem Critical of the Authorities
International PEN is gravely concerned for the well-being of leading Burmese poet Saw Wai, who was arrested on January 22, 2008, for a poem critical of the authorities. PEN seeks immediate assurance of Saw Wai’s well-being, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release and the release of all who are currently detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Saw Wai was arrested on January 22, 2008, for publishing a love poem that crypticly criticized General Than Shwe, head of Burma's ruling military junta. The poem, "February the Fourteenth," an eight-line verse about Valentine's Day, was published in the Rangoon-based weekly magazine Love Journal. When the first letters of each line of the poem are put together, they read “General Than Shwe is crazy with power” in Burmese. The weekly magazine quickly sold out as word spread of the coded message. Dissident writers in Burma have used similar techniques before to get their messages past government censors.
Saw Wai's wife, Nan San San Aye, attemped to see her husband in Insein prison on January 28, 2008, but was denied access to him. No information has been made public about his detention or the charges against him, and he continues to be detained incommunicado.
Saw Wai is well known for his romantic poems and is also a performance artist. Until his recent arrest, he headed the White Rainbow poetry-recital group, a group of artists and writers working to raise money for AIDS orphans. In 1988, he was dismissed from his job at the government communication office for taking part in the 1988 uprising.
A major crackdown in Burma has been under way since early September 2007, following demonstrations by monks and pro-democracy activists, which began on August 19, 2007. Writers and journalists are among the scores of people who have been detained. All of those arrested in the crackdown are now thought to have been freed, but many remain under heavy restriction and the authorities continue to crack down on any expressions of dissent.
Send Your Letter To
While the situation in Burma is still critical, letters sent to the country may not be received or taken as a priority. PEN recommends that appeals be sent to the diplomatic representative of Myanmar (Burma) in your own country:
protesting the detention of leading poet Saw Wai, and expressing grave concern for his well-being;
demanding his immediate and unconditional release and the release of all who are currently detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Volunteers may consider writing letters to their national newspapers expressing alarm at events in Burma, and highlighting Saw Wai’s case to illustrate the many years of repression in the country.