PEN Myanmar condemns banning writers from public events

PEN Myanmar released a statement on Monday denouncing the banning of authors from speaking at literary events in Yangon, Mandalay, Paungde and Pyawbwe as restrictions on freedom of expression.

Some local authorities have used various methods to restrict the literary talks, banning non-Buddhist authors and other writers because of either their religion or political views.

“Freedom of expression has been stated in both Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Section 354 (a) of the 2008 Constitution,” said PEN Myanmar in a statement.

PEN Myanmar is a non-governmental organisations which was launched in September 2013 as part of PEN International and have pledged to oppose the suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong.

Writers Nyi Pu Kalay, Maung Sein Win (Padigon) and U Phone (Chemistry) were recently banned from giving public talks in Pyawbwe Township on February 4, after a township administration officer claimed they were propagating for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD).

“In Myanmar, as you know, the upper level says what they want to say and the bottom must comply. Although they are speaking about human rights and democracy, they are afraid of it. They despise it,” said writer Nyi Pu Kalay.

Far from propagating any party line, writer U Phone (Chemistry) said that they only stated that people should rightly vote for those who can genuinely serve the interest of the country in next 2015 election.

The authorities have also prohibited any video distribution of the talk.

“Writers will say their opinions. He cannot be told not to say this and that. It is not acceptable that those who attended the literary talk were warned so,” said Aung Zar Moe, a resident from Pyawbwe Township.

In another case, a literary event was cancelled in Pyawbwe, Mandalay Region in January because hardline monks complained that one of the writers Ma Thida (Sanchaung) worked with Muslims.

“They demanded me to replace Ma Thida as she works at a Muslim hospital and she has said that she does not accept the anti-interfaith marriage law while she was in Singapore,” event organiser Thin Yi told Eleven Media.

Thin Yi tried to explain to the monks that Ma Thida was a Buddhist and the Buddha does not allow for discrimination, but they refused to listen so he cancelled the event instead of replacing the author.

In yet another talk held in Paunde, cartoonist Aw Pi Kyel, author Maung Tha Cho, and the NLD’s legal affairs committee member Ko Ni were pressured by the Patriotic Myanmar Buddhist Monks Union not to give a lecture because Ko Ni was a Muslim.

“This concept is similar to that in the period of the dictatorship. It sounds like they want to go back to the previous era,” said author Maung Sein Win.

A talk celebrating Union Day on February 12 in North Oakkalapa Township was called off as some members of the Patriotic Myanmar Buddhist Monks Union did not accept the participation of two Muslims.

The two people singled out were Ko Ni and Mya Aye from the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society.

“Actually, this should not have happened. That is a personal attack. We formed these groups to prevent conflicts, not to cause them,” said one Buddhist monk, U Pyi Kyaw, who was one of the leaders of the Saffron Revolution.

“We are also being attacked because they say we are bogus monks of Saffron Revolution. We cannot accept it,” he added.

These cases come as Myanmar undergoes its fourth year of sweeping reforms and has been praised internationally for lifting restrictions on publishing and freedom of the press.

The Irrawaddy Literary Festival was hosted in Mandalay between February 14 to 16 for the second time hosting many prominent international authors, as well as local writers and publishers.