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Release of Imprisoned Burmese Writers Called For

Vaclav Havel and Nobel Laureates Call For Release of Imprisoned Burmese Writers

International PEN London and Prague, embargoed until April 14, 2004

Fourteen Nobel Literature Laureates are joining Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic and renowned playwright, and Jiri Grusa, acclaimed Czech writer and President of International PEN, to urge Senior General Than Shwe of the Burmese Military Junta to immediately release Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other imprisoned Burmese writers. Burmese writers serving long sentences include 74 year-old editor U Win Tin, serving 20 years hard labour, and poet and journalist U Aung Myint, condemned to 21 years imprisonment.

In a letter delivered to Burmese embassies in Bangkok, Berlin, London, New Delhi, Tokyo, Washington DC and other cities worldwide on April 13th, Havel and the Laureates wrote “We are profoundly disturbed by the open, unchecked, and accelerating suppression of the internationally-acclaimed peaceful movement for democracy in the Union of Myanmar, and by the denial of the freedom of expression - and in many cases, physical freedom - to our fellow writers. We are urgently concerned for the welfare of all who are currently prosecuted simply for exercising their essential right of freedom of speech and expression.”

The following Nobel Laureates for Literature joined in the appeal: J. M. Coetzee, Naguib Mahfouz, Seamus Heaney, Nadine Gordimer, Kenzaburo Oe, Wole Soyinka, Toni Morrison, Wislawa Szymborska, Czeslaw Milosz, V. S. Naipaul, Günter Grass, Claude Simon, Jose Saramago and Imre Kertesz.

The appeal also states that the detention of these writers is a roadblock to any significant progress or transition to democracy in Burma: “If a single political prisoner, if writers, journalists and other citizens cannot discuss the future of their country without fear, all announcements of political reform lack credibility. All historical experience teaches us that freedom of speech and free and open public debate cannot stand at the end of a road to democracy, but must be at the very beginning of any meaningful reform.”

The appeal will be launched jointly by International PEN President Jiri Grusa and former Czech President Havel at the opening ceremony of the One World International Human Rights Film Festival at the Archa Theatre in Prague at 8 pm on April 14th. A short documentary on the attack last May on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) will be premiered at the Festival.

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