The Burmese poet Saw Wai was sentenced on Monday to two years in prison for writing a love poem that contains a hidden criticism of the Burmese dictator General Than Shwe.
The eight-line poem, “14th February,” was published in a weekly magazine in January. When read vertically, the first word of each line forms a description of General Than Shwe as crazy with power. Saw Wai was consequently charged with “harming public tranquility,” according to the Times in London.
In Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, all published material must be approved by state censors. “Any examination of the writing life in Myanmar…must begin with a discussion of censorship and repression,” writes Stephen Morison Jr. in “Censored Stories: Report From Literary Myanmar” in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.
The Burmese blogger, Nay Myo Kyaw, was also sentenced on Monday to twenty years in prison for posting a cartoon of General Than Shwe, the BBC reported.
Reporters Without Borders and the Burmese Media Association called the arrests appalling. “This shocking sentence is meant to terrify those who go online in an attempt to elude the dictatorship’s ubiquitous control of news and information, and we call for his immediate release,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “Saw Wai, for his part, is being made to pay for his impertinence and courage as a committed poet.”
Yesterday, the government crackdown continued when twenty-three political activists were handed sixty-five year sentences for their participation in an uprising against the military regime last year.
by Stephen Morison Jr.November/December 2008
In the cyclone-ravaged country of Myanmar, where citizens face censorship and repression, contributor Stephen Morison Jr. speaks with authors who, despite the country's Orwellian police state, refuse to be intimidated and continue to write.