Military council bans more books as fundamental freedoms diminish

Military council bans more books as fundamental freedoms diminish

Readers of LGBTQ+ literature and book publishing houses expressed concern over the junta shutting down publishers that print books about same-sex relationships, claiming it is pornography.

In recent years, books on LGBT+ issues in Burma have become popular among teen readers. Books like the best-seller “Strange Love” – which is about a same-sex relationship – was banned by the junta, leading to the closure of several local publishers. 

On April 5, state media announced rules and regulations for them to follow after a local publisher announced a new book “My Possessive Step-Bro”, which is about falling in love with another man, sparking controversy among netizens. 

The book is written by Hnaung Yeik and is distributed by Shwe Lab Book House. Discussions about the book have spread across social media and criticism of it has risen sharply after a photo went viral of teenagers jostling in front of the book store to purchase it once available. The junta banned Shwe Lab Book House from publishing it. 

Last April, people waited outside Shwe Lab Sarpay to pre-oder the book My Possessive Step-Bro

The Global New Light of Myanmar (GNLM) published an editorial with the headline “Literature is Being Poisoned.” It said “homosexual rape” is a “brutal and unusual crime.” GNLM went on to state that writing books that promote pornography and violence undermines Burmese culture, and is in violation of the law. 

The junta’s Ministry of Information announced that it has prohibited the publishing of content that could harm religious, cultural and ethnic cohesion in Burma. Books with themes of pornography, crime, cruelty, violence, gambling and drug use will be banned.

Some believe this is another attempt by the junta to make writers and artists self-censor and to stifle freedom of expression. Shwe Lab Book House said all pre-orders of the book have been canceled. “Dear readers, we have to acknowledge the current situation and request you to be patient in these circumstances. From this moment on, we would like to ignore any social media posts about the book and will explain our updated policies about it later,” Shwe Lab posted to its Facebook page.

According to state media, the book publisher has been arrested and charged for publishing pornographic material in violation of the Printing and Publishing Law. On Aug. 22, the junta announced that it had revoked the publication license of Lucky Little House for allegedly distributing “pornography.” At least four publishing houses have had their licenses revoked since the 2021 military coup. “Banning LGBTQ+ books in Burma is reactionary and will repress the community. I’m concerned that it could harm and diminish [our] rights,” a reader of LGBTQ+ books told DVB. 

The junta leader Min Aung Hlaing criticized books published after 2015 when the NLD took office. He made the remarks in a speech at the 75th anniversary of the founding of Sarpay Beikman – a Burmese publishing group. “Some literature, books and talk shows released after 2015 are leading to a polarized society that is against the democratic system this country has started to establish. We will have to give proper thought to ensure this does not happen again,” he said during his 18-minute-long pre-recorded speech. 

Wai Hmu Thwin, spokesperson of Yangon’s Roads Publishing House, disagreed with him. “With the relaxation of censorship during the Thein Sein government, rare and precious books that encourage democracy were published. The period after 2015 was finally when good literature was flourishing and being reestablished,” Wai Hmu Thwin told DVB. “The junta does not know the value of literature and it does not want good literature. There is no reason to counter what they say,” a publisher said. According to book publishing houses in Yangon, the junta warned against printing any material deemed anti-military since the coup last year.