International literary festival opens in Myanmar
A man browses a book on Myanmar's Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi displayed during the Irrawaddy Literary Festival at Inya Lake hotel Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in Yangon, Myanmar. The country's first international literary festival opens Friday, featuring dozens of authors from around the world, including Suu Kyi. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The latest first for fast-reforming Myanmar — its first international literary festival — is putting the spotlight on dozens of the country's authors, a number of whom once spent time in prison for their writings.
The Irrawaddy Literary Festival, which runs from Friday through Sunday, comes as Myanmar relaxes its censorship rules, bringing new freedom of expression to the country's authors, journalists, bloggers and comedians. More than 100 authors from around the world are attending, including Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader who spent the better part of two decades under house arrest before being elected to parliament last year.
"Wild Swans" author Jung Chang talks to a journalist during opening ceremony of the Irrawaddy Literary Festival at Inya Lake hotel Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, in Yangon, Myanmar. The country's first international literary festival opens Friday, featuring dozens of authors from around the world, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)
"We still take some care," said Pe Myint, who has written 42 books and numerous short stories. But, he added, for the last two years he has been able to publicly criticize the government, a once unimaginable right.
Myanmar was controlled by a military junta for half a century before sweeping political reform brought a rush of business and cultural engagement with the outside world. Some of the most striking changes have centered on speech and press freedoms.
Myanmar shut its censorship office in August and a week ago officially rebranded the Press Scrutiny board, which was responsible for censoring publications, as the Copyrights and Registration Division.
Authors must still submit their books to the government, but it can no longer block their distribution. Some of the old laws used to jail dissident writers remain on the books, but local authors say that for the most part, censors have put down their red pens and they can publish quite freely.