An Evening with Writers From Myanmar

Article by Wun Kuen Ng

Words can get one into prison and some writings come from excruciating experiences. Three writers from Myanmar, Dr. Ma Thida, Nay Phone Latt and Khin Mya Zin discussed the issue of censorship, social media, and militarized education at the Asia Society on November 5, 2014 at 6:30PM. They spend the week advocating literature and free expression in Myanmar after 50 years of dictatorship.

Dr. Ma Thida, who served six years of a 20-year sentence in prison for “endangering public peace, having contact with illegal organizations, and distributing unlawful literature,” is currently the President of PEN Myanmar, a new organization to protect the freedom of expression and provide a beacon of hope for the nation’s literary community. After 50 years of dictatorship, self-censorship is still present but there is a hunger for freedom.

Latt, a blogger, also imprisoned for four years for tarnishing the image of the government of Myanmar, is currently the Secretary of PEN Myanmar. He made the comment that social media is used to spread hate speech with distorted information. Journalists are still in constant danger when reporting on military and government cronyism. Due to militarized education, students are not encouraged to think for themselves or be creative.

Zin mentioned that in her career as a writer she had to deal with censorship by writing topics favored by the Socialist Party. After a work of hers was rejected, she changed the title of her work and was published. Sometimes not only writers have self-censorship but editors too.

The three writers got a chance to read their work in their original language and in the English translation. It has been a harrowing journey for the writers. Ma Tilda won the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith (Freedom to Write Award) in 1996 while still in prison. Latt won the same award in 2011, also while in prison.

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