International PEN is seriously concerned about the charges of “defiling a place of worship with intent to insult the religion,” among others, that have been made against comedian and poet Maung Thura (Zargana) and journalist Zaw Thet Htwe. They have been under arrest since June 2008, after leading a private effort to deliver aid to cyclone victims. If found guilty, Zargana and Thet Htwe could face up to 15 years in prison. PEN considers their detention and charges to be a breach of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release, and for the charges to be dropped.

Background Information

On August 14, 2008, Zargana and Zaw Thet Htwe appeared at a hearing held at the Rangoon West District Court within the Insein prison precincts, where both were charged. Zargana was charged with seven offenses under section 505(b) and section 295 of the Criminal Code, section 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act, sections 32(b)/36 of the Video Act, and sections 33(a)/38 of the Electronic Act. Zaw Thet Htwe was charged with two offenses under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code, sections 33(a)/38 of the Video Act ,and section 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act.
Zargana, a leading comedian, poet, and opposition activist, was arrested on the evening of June 4, 2008, after police raided his home in Yangon. Some linked his arrest to his private relief efforts delivering aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck on May 2, 2008. It has been reported that at the August 14 hearing, the prosecutor submitted photographs of the poet that they claimed demonstrate disaffection toward the state and government. The prosecution also submitted transcripts of interviews given by Zargana to the BBC and VOA.
Journalist Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested on June 13, 2008 while visiting his sick mother in Minbu, central Burma, and transferred to an interrogation center in Yangon. His computer, mobile phone, and personal documents were also confiscated. Thet Htwe had been working with Zargana and other leading Burmese figures to deliver aid and support to the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

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. It is therefore recommended that appeals be sent to the diplomatic representative of Myanmar (Burma) in your own country:

  • expressing serious concern about the detention and charges against comedian and poet Zargana and journalist Zaw Thet Htwe;
  • calling for their immediate and unconditional release and for the charges against them to be dropped;
  • demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all those 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 Zargana and Zaw Thet Htwe’s cases to illustrate the many years of repression in the country.