September 3, 2018 - The conviction of Reuters reporters and 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award winners Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo represents a travesty of justice for these two brave journalists and a grave setback for Myanmar’s aspiring democracy, PEN America said in a statement today.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were found guilty under Section 3.1.c of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act and sentenced to 7 years in prison in a Myanmar court today, after more than 8 months in detention facing charges. The latest hearings revealed not only a lack of evidence against the two journalists—the documents they are accused of wrongfully possessing are not secret, and there is no evidence of their intent to harm the country—but also included testimony from a police officer that the Reuters journalists were deliberately framed by authorities in a set-up.
“While Myanmar’s prosecutors may claim victory today, their country’s democracy and international credibility have suffered a mortal blow. The fate of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is a litmus test for a once hopeful regime whose reputation and standing have been irreparably tarnished by egregious human rights abuses. Today’s baseless conviction of two intrepid reporters in a case that has captured the world’s attention will be remembered as an ominous moment in Myanmar’s fitful struggle for democracy,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “Given the overwhelming evidence that these two men not only committed no crime but were likely victims of a deliberate set-up by authorities, the court’s decision can only be understood as part of an orchestrated attempt to intimidate the press and enforce silence regarding the violence in Rakhine State. There is still an opportunity to right these grievous wrongs; PEN America calls on the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally pardon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and release them to their families.”
Arrested on December 12, 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged the following day. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo both pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prior to their arrest, the pair had been investigating the ethnic violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, which contributed to a Reuters exposé released in February 2018. The detailed report investigated the execution of 10 Muslim Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din, in Rakhine state, who were accused of inciting political unrest by the military; the military admitted to the killings in January.
On August 10, Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to the couple’s first child, a girl named Thet Htar Angel. Wa Lone has not yet been able to see his daughter.
In May, dozens of literary luminaries—including best-selling authors Chimamanda Adichie and Jonathan Franzen, journalists Christiane Amanpour and Bob Woodward, cultural icons Marina Abramović and Stephen Sondheim, and many more—signed an open letter urging Myanmar authorities to release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
The PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, conferred annually, recognizes an imprisoned writer or writers targeted for exercising freedom of speech. Of the 42 jailed writers who have received the award since 1987, 37 have been released, due in part to the global attention and pressure the award generates. This was the first time PEN America has recognized honorees from Myanmar since the country held elections in 2015, marking international recognition that, despite significant political reforms, the situation for human rights and free expression in the country is grave and worsening.
This statement was originally published on PEN America's website.