NEW YORK—More than 50 human rights organizations from around the world are calling on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar authorities to release Reuters reporters and 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were detained in December 2017 and later sentenced to 7-year prison terms under the Official Secrets Act as a punishment for investigating a massacre in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Marking two months since their conviction on September 3, 2018, and following the news that lawyers today filed an appeal in the case, more than 50 international, regional, and Myanmar-based human rights and free expression organizations—including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Federation of Journalists, International Press Institute, and Article 19—have joined PEN America in issuing an open letter to State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi stating their grave concerns regarding the journalists’ unjust detention and trial, and calling on authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, reject their convictions, and review and amend all laws currently being used to restrict freedom of expression in Myanmar.

The letter reads in part: “We believe that that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should never have been arrested in the first place, let alone prosecuted, convicted, and imprisoned. Their trial, which was already manifestly unfair, was made more so by the repeated failure to uphold key tenets of the rule of law and to build a convincing evidence-based case against these journalists… We therefore call on the Myanmar authorities to immediately and unconditionally release these two men, and reject the convictions against them.” Signatories include many organizations that provided steadfast support to Aung San Suu Kyi and other activists and journalists who were persecuted during Myanmar’s years of military rule.

“The outrageous revelations of entrapment and the contradictory evidence during their trial revealed unmistakably that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were being deliberately framed in response to their efforts to expose the truth through dogged reporting,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “Their conviction is a shameful black mark that has tarnished Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal reputation as well as that of her nation. Many of the organizations signing this letter, including PEN America, championed Aung San Suu Kyi’s case during her many years of unjust detention. She of all people knows what it means to be wrongfully imprisoned. We call upon her and the Myanmar government to immediately and unconditionally release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and revise the laws that impair freedom of expression in Myanmar.”

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, both reporters with Reuters, were detained on December 12, 2017 and convicted on September 3, 2018 for their investigative reporting on a massacre of 10 Rohingya villagers in the village of Inn Din in Rakhine State; the resulting exposé was published in February 2018. With both the pre-trial hearings and the trial itself riddled with inconsistencies, including contradictory evidence from prosecution witnesses and an admission by a police officer that the reporters had been set up, their case is the most prominent in a number of recent arrests and convictions using colonial-era laws to stifle press freedom and freedom of expression in Myanmar. Since the present government came into power, such laws have been used more frequently, contributing to a rising climate of fear and self-censorship by Myanmar reporters. Recent reports by both Myanmar-based and international watchdogs have noted the decline in media freedom with concern.

The open letter is available here.


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.

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