Myanmar’s navy authorities detained extra writers, teachers, and public intellectuals than every other nation final yr, because it sought ruthlessly to stamp out the resistance to its February 2021 coup.
According to PEN America’s newest Freedom to Write Index, launched in the present day, Myanmar’s junta detained not less than 26 writers in 2021, and now sits third on this planet behind solely Saudi Arabia, which presently has 29 writers in detention, and perennial index-leader China, with 85.
“The environment for free expression in Myanmar dramatically worsened in 2021 as a result of the February 1 coup,” the report states. “In addition to detentions, which in most cases have been followed eventually by legal charges and sentences under Myanmar’s restrictive laws, writers and public intellectuals have also faced violence, threats, and surveillance, all of which have served to chill expression and the ability to write freely.”
The annual PEN index provides a rely of the writers, teachers, and public intellectuals who have been held in jail or detention sooner or later throughout 2021. It consists of any occasion by which a author was focused due to their work, and jailed for greater than 48 hours.
Globally, not less than 277 writers have been in jail or unjustly held in detention in reference to their writing, their work, or associated activism, PEN mentioned, up from 273 final yr. In final yr’s index, Myanmar was recorded as having eight writers and public intellectuals in detention, putting it in tenth place.
These figures should not shocking, given the ferocity of the Myanmar navy’s crackdowns on dissenting opinions, however they provide additional compelling proof of the extent to which the nation’s permitted areas without cost expression have contracted. As the report notes, the navy’s crackdown has prolonged to “broad restrictions on free expression and the ability to access and share information and commentary, particularly online.”
“Widespread and lengthy internet and communications shutdowns, coupled with increased surveillance and the ramped up use of laws criminalizing online activity, were also used to silence influential voices,” it added.
This marks a pointy distinction with the state of affairs simply 15 months in the past. During Myanmar’s anomalous decade of reform between 2011 and 2021, the federal government abolished the nation’s system of “red pen” pre-publication censorship, and the press flourished after years below the heavy hand of navy rule. New publications appeared by the dozen and teachers, artists, and writers have been emboldened to sort out points that have been as soon as seen as politically untouchable.
When the navy seized energy on February 1 of final yr, overthrowing the civilian authorities led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, writers, intellectuals, and filmmakers have been among the many most vocal critics. Writers’ teams and different artistic artists additionally performed an essential position within the Civil Disobedience Movement that was shaped within the speedy wake of the coup. As a consequence, they have been “targeted for arrest and legal charges – and in some cases, they have been killed – for their civic activism and for inspiring others to join the movement.”
Others have been arrested preemptively as a result of their lengthy monitor data of help for democratic rules and opposition to navy rule. Among these was Maung Thar Cho, a professor, poet, and political satirist who, in response to PEN, was arrested simply hours after the navy coup and charged with spreading “false news.” He was subsequently sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with onerous labor and, in response to PEN, is presently being held in Insein Prison in Yangon, “undergoing periods of solitary confinement and denied access to adequate medical care.” Also arrested within the first hours after the coup have been the filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, beforehand detained in 2019, the singer-songwriter Saw Phoe Khwar, and the writers Htin Lin Oo, Maung Thar Cho, Mya Aye, and Than Myint Aung.
As I’ve famous earlier than, the junta has additionally focused the press, detaining greater than 100 journalists throughout its menacing crackdown on anti-coup protests. About half have since been launched, however the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders claimed in December that 53 journalists are nonetheless in custody.
“In Myanmar and in countries across the globe, writers and public intellectuals are being imprisoned for the ‘crime’ of exercising their freedom of expression and, in many cases, for using the power of the written word to fight back against authoritarianism,” Karin Deutsch Karlekar, the director of PEN America’s “free expression at risk” program, instructed The Guardian in reference to the report’s launch.