NEW YORK—Given the lack of relevant evidence brought forward in the pre-trial period, and the testimony suggesting police entrapped Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the Myanmar courts face an important opportunity to uphold the value of a free press by dropping the case and immediately releasing the two reporters, PEN America said in a statement today.

Prior to their arrest on December 12, 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were investigating the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Their reporting contributed to a Reuters exposé that was released in February 2018, which gave a detailed report of the pillage of Inn Din, a village in Rakhine State. This report included an investigation into the execution of 10 Muslim Rohingya men who were accused of inciting political unrest by the military; the military admitted to the killings in January. On December 13, authorities announced that the two journalists could face charges under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. The pair have spent over six months in detention since their initial arrest, facing weekly pre-trial hearings before a judge to decide whether the state has sufficient evidence to pursue this case in trial. Final arguments were presented on July 2, and the court is expected to hand down a decision on July 9 as to whether the case will move forward to trial. Lawyers for the defense have argued that the evidence on all grounds is insufficient.

“If the court chooses to press charges against Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, it will be a clear signal to the world that freedom of the press in Myanmar is in grave danger,” said Summer Lopez, Senior Director of Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “We remain hopeful that the court will instead uphold the rule of law and preserve Myanmar’s hard-won press freedoms by ensuring that these two journalists are not wrongfully prosecuted for doing their jobs and trying to report painful truths. These brave reporters have already spent more than six months in jail, and they deserve to be reunited with their families as soon as possible.”

In February, PEN America honored Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo with the 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, conferred annually, which 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 is the first time that 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. Nearly 4,000 people have signed PEN America’s letter calling for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s release; you can add your name to the letter here.

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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

CONTACT: 

Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: agasparian@pen.org