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Myanmar: Military coup undermines the will of the people and raises the spectre of the country’s authoritarian past

Monday 1 February 2021 - 11:20am

PEN International


Update - 3 February 2021

PEN International has learned that three writers have been detained as part of the military crackdown. Two of the writers, Maung Thar Cho and Than Myint Aung, are members of PEN Myanmar and Htin Lin Oo is a member of the Myanmar writers club. A deeply concerning development, their detention reveals the Myanmar military's intent to use the coup to silence civil society.

On receiving news of the writers' detention, Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee, said: "Perish the thought that the Myanmar military is committed to democracy or the rule of law. Besides arresting elected representatives to the new parliament, it is busy detaining independent-minded writers and thinkers. This is a power grab, taking Myanmar back by decades. Maung Thar Cho has been part of the PEN family and co-leads a project on short story writing. Than Myint Aung is a compassionate writer involved with many organisations committed to causes that make Yangon a better place. Writer Htin Lin Oo, onetime detainee, was accused of insulting Buddhism, and is now detained. We don't know where they are, or what charges they have been arrested under. They must be released immediately".

PEN International is extremely alarmed by reports of a coup being carried out by Myanmar’s military. On 1 February, the Myanmar Army declared a state of emergency after carrying out waves of arrests of government officials and political figures, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military coup has taken place following allegations by the military of voter fraud during the country’s general elections in November 2020, which led to a robust rejection of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party by Myanmar’s citizens at the polling booth. On Friday, 29 January, Myanmar’s election commission flatly rejected the military’s claims of voter fraud.

In response to the military's repression of Myanmar's nascent democracy, Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said: "Myanmar has turned the clock back three decades. Then, it was the army against the people's will. Now, too, it is the army against the people's will. This is not a fight between the institution of the army and a political party alone; it is the army turning against it's constitutional role. Suppressing the voices of writers and dissidents takes Myanmar deeper into an abyss. The international community must do all it can to help restore human rights in Myanmar".

PEN International calls for the immediate and unconditional release of those detained and for the reinstatement of Myanmar's democratically elected government. Myanmar’s military must abide by and respect the primacy of the country’s constitution, which prohibits the declaration of a state of emergency without the consent of Myanmar’s President. It is understood that the military has declared a state of emergency unilaterally without the President’s consent, severely undermining the will of the people of Myanmar and signalling a return to a dark chapter in the country’s history.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: