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Military-led Myanmar jailed the most writers of any country in 2021, report says

Riot police stand guard on a road during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 8, 2021. File Photo by Xiao Long/UPI
1 of 4 | Riot police stand guard on a road during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 8, 2021. File Photo by Xiao Long/UPI | License Photo

April 14 (UPI) -- Myanmar detained 20 writers and public intellectuals last year, the most of any country in the world, according to a new report Wednesday by advocacy group PEN America.

The surge in arrests came after the coup in February 2021 in which the military invalidated the recent democratic election and began targeting political leaders, cultural figures, civil society groups and protesters.

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"During 2021, Myanmar accounted for the single-largest increase of writers and public intellectuals newly jailed for exercising free expression, due to the military junta's crackdown on influential voices," New York-based PEN America said in a statement accompanying the release of its 2021 Freedom to Write Index on Wednesday.

Myanmar moved up to the third-worst violator on the index, with 26 writers currently in prison, placing the country behind only China and Saudi Arabia.

"PEN America is sounding the alarm that the number of writers and public intellectuals detained or imprisoned in 2021 remains intolerably high, and we are particularly distressed to see Myanmar among the top three jailers of writers," Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America's free expression at risk programs, said.

Soldiers stand guard in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 2, 2021 -- one day after the military overthrew the country's civilian government and installed junta leadership. File Photo by Xiao Long/UPI

The country ranked ninth in last year's index, with eight detentions at the time of publication.

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In addition to arrests, Myanmar authorities have employed systematic pressure campaigns to silence writers, PEN America noted.

"Writers and public intellectuals have also faced violence, threats, and surveillance, all of which have served to chill expression and the ability to write freely," the report states.

More than 13,000 people have been arrested and 1,700 killed since the coup, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group based in Thailand.

The United States and allies have sanctioned military officials and companies with ties to the Myanmar's military junta. Last month, the United Nations concluded in a report that Myanmar's security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity since the takeover.

Myanmar was also at the top of a global plunge in digital freedom last year, as authorities shut off Internet access, blocked social media and ramped up surveillance activities.

China remains the world's largest jailer of writers by a large margin, the PEN America report said -- with 85 being held in 2021. China's count includes the Xinjiang and Tibet Autonomous regions as well as Hong Kong, which has seen a crackdown on press freedoms since pro-democracy protests in 2019.

Saudi Arabia, a monarchy governed under strict interpretations of Islamic law, remained at No. 2 on the list, with 29 writers imprisoned. Rounding out the Top 10 on the index are Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Belarus, Vietnam, India and Eritrea.

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Overall, the report found that at least 277 writers, academics and public intellectuals in 36 countries were imprisoned or detained in 2021 in connection with their writings.

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