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Myanmar: Sentencing of Myanmar writers highlights military junta’s ongoing crackdown on free expression

Tuesday 22 February 2022 - 5:50pm

Myanmar: Sentencing of Myanmar writers highlights military junta’s ongoing crackdown on free expression

Update - 17 November 2022

PEN International is happy to confirm that writer Maung Thar Cho is among those released as part of a prisoner amnesty. He should never have been detained, and we continue are call for the immediate and unconditional release who remain imprisoned for their peaceful expression in Myanmar.

PEN International is alarmed over reports that Myanmar writers Maung Thar Cho and Htin Lin Oo, who have been detained since the first day of the coup on 1 February 2021, have now been sentenced by the military junta to several years imprisonment with hard labour. Their sentencing highlights the military junta’s determination to use Myanmar’s legal system to suppress any criticism of their violent dictatorship.

Both Maung Thar Cho and Htin Lin Oo were among the first of those detained as part of the military’s initial wave of arrests after seizing power from Myanmar’s democratically elected government on 1 February 2021.

The spurious nature of the charges against these two writers are a damning example of how the judiciary and legislative systems of Myanmar have been corrupted by the military junta to silence all criticism of their repressive rule. We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all those who have been unjustly detained, said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Maung Thar Cho was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment with hard labour under section 505 of Myanmar's Penal Code, a charge frequently used by the military junta to punish those who have criticised the coup or the military’s conduct. The charge reportedly stems from two of Maung Thar Cho’s literary works that were published a year before the coup took place.

Maung Thar Cho is a writer, poet, editor and member of PEN Myanmar, who has authored over 70 literary works crossing multiple literary genres, including poetry, essays and short stories. A professor of Myanmar literature at the Yangon Training College, Maung Thar Cho is also a gifted educator and communicator who gained a reputation for his use of satire as a way to address contentious political and social issues affecting Myanmar society.

Htin Lin Oo was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on the same charge after he reportedly condemned the military coup during a live broadcast posted on his social media account on 1 February 2021.

A well-known writer and political activist, Htin Lin Oo was a frequent contributor to Myanmar’s current affairs magazines and has also published several books. He is also a member of the Myanmar Writers Club and an editor of Myanmar’s D Wave journal. He was previously arrested on 4 December 2014 by the then military-led government after giving a speech criticising the use of religion by some political groups to stoke inter-ethnic hostility in Myanmar. Charged with committing blasphemy, he was detained for 16 months and later acquitted and released on 16 April 2016 as part of a prisoner amnesty, following the establishment of Myanmar’s first non-military government in over fifty years.

Maung Thar Cho and Htin Lin Oo are two of a growing number of poets, writers, journalists and scholars who have been sentenced to several years imprisonment for their peaceful criticism of the military junta and its violent crackdown on free expression. Other writers include Than Myint Aung, Maung Yu Py, Mya Aye, and Wai Moe Naing, all of whom are currently held in various forms of unjust detention.

PEN International condemns the military junta’s brutal suppression of the people of Myanmar and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Maung Thar Cho and Htin Lin Oo and all those wrongfully detained.

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: ross.holder@pen-international.org