PEN International is alarmed by the sentencing of writer, activist and PEN Myanmar member, Wai Moe Naing, to 10 years’ imprisonment. With several charges remaining against him, we call on the military junta to ensure his right to defend himself in accordance with international fair trial standards.
Wai Moe Naing’s trial took place at a military court located inside Monywa Prison, where he has been held since he was violently arrested last year. On 12 August, he was found guilty of committing multiple counts of incitement under section 505(A) of the Penal Code, which has been routinely used by the military junta to target critics of the regime. Following the conviction, Wai Moe Naing was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. According to reports, Wai Moe Naing did not appeal the court’s ruling, stating that the allegations were not committed by him, so there was nothing to appeal.
“Attempting to silence activists only makes their voices louder, allowing their words to resonate across society. Abusing the legal system to unjustly imprison Wai Moe Naing reveals the extent to which the judicial system has been corrupted by the military junta, with every additional charge they level against him serving as an example of their fear of free expression. The international community must increase its efforts to ensure that the rights of the people of Myanmar are protected,” said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
The sentencing takes place in the midst of an intensifying crackdown on lawyers who have represented activists and dissidents who objected to the military junta’s rule. Given the inherent absence of judicial independence in the military-run courts, the targeting of lawyers has further eroded detainees' ability to defend themselves against highly questionable charges. During his trial, Wai Moe Naing was forced to represent himself after two of his lawyers, Moe Zaw Tun and Tin Win Aung, were arrested and a third was forced to go into hiding after a warrant was issued for their arrest.
Wai Moe Naing was arrested on 15 April 2021 by junta forces after they reportedly used an unmarked vehicle to ram Wai Moe Naing while he was driving on a moped as part of a protest rally in the Monywa region. When he tried to escape on foot, a group of armed men disembarked and attacked him and a female protestor before detaining them both. Following his initial conviction, he still faces several other charges, including murder and unlawful association. The charges are reported to relate to the killings of two police officers in the Monywa region, but no evidence has emerged that links Wai Moe Naing to the crime. Wai Moe Naing’s friends and family have rejected the accusation of murder on the strongest possible terms.
Last month’s execution of writer and pro-democracy activist, Kyaw Min Yu, and three others following similarly unjust trials, raises significant concerns over Wai Moe Naing’s ability to effectively defend himself against these unsubstantiated charges according to international fair trial norms.
PEN International condemns the military junta’s brutal repression of the people of Myanmar and continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of Wai Moe Naing and all those wrongfully detained for their peaceful expression.
Wai Moe Naing is a writer, activist, and member of PEN Myanmar. He began writing as a student, with his first short story being published in Teen Magazine at the age of 13. His writing has since been published in several literary outlets, including Khit Yanantthit Magazine and Pae Tin Tharn Journal. In the immediate aftermath of the military coup, Wai Moe Naing rose to prominence as a leader of the anti-coup protest movement and was among those who popularised the idea of banging pots and pans as a non-violent act of resistance to the military junta’s rule.
For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: email@example.com