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Burma 31 January 2008

Detained poet transferred to Insein prison

Reporters Without Borders is worried about poet Saw Wai’s transfer to the notorious Insein prison on 26 January, four days after his arrest for criticising the head of the military government, Gen. Than Shwe, in a coded message in a poem published in the weekly Achit Journal.

An enormous detention centre built by the British near Rangoon, Insein has become the symbol of the military regime’s repressive apparatus. It is known for appalling conditions and the frequent use of physical and psychological torture.

24.01.2008 - Imprisoned journalist U Win Tin is hospitalized, while poet is arrested

U Win Tin, a well-known journalist who has been imprisoned since July 1989, was taken to a guarded room at Rangoon general hospital on 22 January suffering from a painful hernia. A hospital source said he would undergo an operation in the next few days, after a series of tests. His relatives and friends have been able to visit him in the hospital, although they are checked by the policemen stationed outside his room.

At the same time, Saw Wai, a leading poet known for his love poems, was arrested by soldiers on 22 January for writing a Valentine’s Day poem that contained a coded criticism of the head of the military government, Gen. Than Shwe.

"In both cases, these men just peacefully expressed their views and we call for their immediate release," Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association said. "In U Win Tin’s case, the military government’s treatment of a sick old man is criminal. We are very worried about this operation. In Saw Wai’s case, we fear he will be mistreated while in detention. His only crime is to have circumvented censorship in order to say what most Burmese think of the regime."

U Win Tin, who is serving a 20-year sentence for "anti-government propaganda" and other offences, has not received any visits from representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross since the start of 2006. Although he is now held in a special cell in Insein prison, his health has slowly deteriorated. He has high blood pressure and a chronic heart condition. According to the Burmese prison rules, U Win Tin should have been released since July 2005.

Saw Wai was arrested the day after his poem, entitled "14 February" was published in the popular weekly Achit Journal (Love Journal). Read vertically, the first words of each line formed the phrase: "Power crazy Senior General Than Shwe."

Both the poet and members of the magazine’s staff were interrogated by military censors about the poem, which circulated widely in Rangoon and boosted the magazine’s sales until it was withdrawn from news stands. Editor Myat Khine was asked to explain how it came to be published.

A similar cryptogam was used in an advertisement in the Myanmar Times for a non-existent Swedish travel agency in July 2007. Read backwards, the travel agency’s name said: "Killer Than Shwe."

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