NEW YORK—The denial of bail to Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Moe Aung (also known as Kyaw Soe Oo) demonstrates authorities’ determination to silence and punish independent voices in Myanmar, PEN America said in a statement today.   

In a courtroom reportedly packed with journalists and diplomats, Wa Lone and Moe Aung were refused bail in spite of their defense lawyer submitting newspaper articles that he said showed the information and documents the two reporters are accused of having obtained unlawfully about the crisis in Rakhine state were publicly available at the time. Their next hearing is scheduled for February 6. 

“The use of archaic colonial laws to detain and charge Wa Lone and Moe Aung is a blatant attempt to punish investigative journalism and intrepid reporting,” said Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “These charges are an absurd attack on reporters who were merely doing their job, and represent a deeply alarming deterioration of hard-won press freedoms in Myanmar.”

Arrested in mid-December, the journalists have been charged with breaching the 1923 Official Secrets Act and were denied a request to be released on bail during the duration of their trial. They stand accused of allegedly possessing internal security reports related to the ongoing fighting in Rakhine State between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. If convicted, they face up to 14 years in prison.  In June, three reporters were arrested and detained for several months under the Unlawful Associations Act, and there has been an alarming rise in attempted prosecutions of online speech under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act. PEN America’s 2015 report, Unfinished Freedom: A Blueprint for the Future of Free Expression in Myanmar, noted the urgent need to reform a range of restrictive laws still on the books that are now being used to chill speech and investigative journalism under the new government.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org 

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Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: agasparian@pen.org, 646-981-0685