Fugitive poet pens new verses in hideout, posts them to Facebook

Maung Saungkha went into hiding earlier this month in Yangon after posting a poem to his Facebook page that described an imaginary tattoo of the president on his penis.

While he didn’t specify what president he was talking about, authorities took notice and showed up at his house to arrest the 23-year-old poet. By that time he had fled.

The threat of arrest, however, hasn’t stopped him from staying online and posting dissident lyrics about the power of free speech (and also selfies and love poems).

On Friday morning he uploaded this:

You can arrest only the poets
Not the poems

In a phone interview he said police came to his house yesterday because they heard he was there. He wasn’t. He said he would eventually turn himself him, but he might wait until after the election to do so. 

“Anyway, I will face this problem. But now, I am just staying away,” he said. “They are always afraid of poems.”

While English versions of his original poem have used the word “penis,” a more literal or formal translation by Ko Ko Thet comes off like a bawdy line from the Canterbury Tales. 

On my manhood rests a tattooed
portrait of Mr. President
My beloved found that out after
we wed
She was utterly gutted,

He has become the third person sued for criminal defamation over a Facebook update in the past several weeks.

The trouble started when director Zaw Htay, also known as Hmuu Zaw, from the president’s office wrote on his own Facebook page that the young director of the Poetry Lover Organization should be “prepared to take responsibility for what he did,” referring to the October 8 post.

That would appear to mean writing the poem, unless authorities believe he actually has this tattoo.

Police turned up at his Shwepyithar township home that night but Maung Saungkha wasn’t there – and he has stayed away.

Local officers told the Irrawaddy that a case has been filed against the poet under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail.

That same provision was used in other cases, against Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, a Kachin aid worker, and a ruling party official.

Peace activist May Sabe Phyu, the wife of Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, said her husband was simply tagged in a controversial post.

The Union Solidarity and Development Party official allegedly shared an image of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s face transposed onto a naked body.

Also in October, Chaw Sandi Tun was charged under the Electronic Transactions Law after sharing a photo collage that compared military garb to Suu Kyi’s htamein, the female version of a longyi.

She faces up to five years in prison.

Maung Saunghka, who was earlier this year active in a grassroots movement against police violence on student protesters in Letpadan, Bago Division, said he suspects his activism might have drawn attention.

He also disputes the idea that the lyric – inspired by pictures of opposition supporters inked with the visage of leader Aung San Suu Kyi – is about President Thein Sein.

Photo / Aung Naing Soe

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