With the Rakhine non-fiction writer, Wai Hin Aung (don’t be surprised if you have never heard of him) currently serving 20 years for high treason and the ongoing trials (plural!) and tribulations of the Peacock Generation poetic satire group, comes another writer currently wanted for, well, opening his mouth …
Saw Wai is no stranger to this. Fired from his government position as a communications specialist for his participation in the 1988 student led revolution, Saw Wai is perhaps more well known, and internationally feted, for the 2 years he spent in prison from 2008 to 2010 for the infamous acrostic poem mocking the then Junta leader. Published in the Achit/Love Journal, the first letter of each line revealed ‘Power Crazy Than Shwe’ (and to be fair, less attention is placed on the fate of unfortunate owner and editor of Love Journal, who may or may not have been aware of the significance of the poem)
Since his release, he has remained a prominent member of the Myanmar chapter of PEN, often performing his poems nationwide in collaboration with the eclectic poetess Suu Mei Aung. In 2013, he was targeted by plain-clothes service men at the unfortunately much lauded first Irrawaddy Literary Festival, where amongst international speakers proclaiming the new era of literary freedoms and right to free speech, his one man demonstration against the recent reignition of the war in Kachin State was shut down in the grounds of the Inya Lake Hotel.
The next year, in a tea-shop, he showed me a video taken on his phone, of more men in pressed polo-shirts and trousers clearly following and recording a literary visit of his to a town outside of Yangon.
Saw Wai’s most recent troubles stem from statements made 9 months ago at a (legal) rally in Tanintharyi Division, organised in support of the ruling NLD’s attempts to amend the current military regime’s designed constitution. Saw Wai, along with a lawyer U Kyi Myint, and former military officer Nay Myo Zin, were charged with harming the prestige and image of the Tatmadaw, a charge filed by a senior officer in the Tatmadaw under section 505 (a) of the Penal Code (one of three current statutes in the law books that criminalise defamation, including Section 66 (d) of the Telecommunication Law and Article 8 (f) of the 2017 Privacy Law).
Declining to hand himself in to the police after the initial accusation (which is, according to the current iteration of the law, an unbailable offence, so anyone charged under it will go to prison for the duration of the investigation, regardless of whether they are innocent or not), an official arrest warrant was issued for Saw Wai this week.
Image credit @ wikimedia