In reaction to today’s news that the expected verdict in the case against Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees, will be delayed until September 3, PEN America calls for the judge ruling in the case to uphold the rule of law, acquit the two reporters, and end the prosecution of journalists who are simply doing their jobs.

Arrested on December 12, 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years; both pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prior to their arrest, the pair had been investigating the conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, contributing to a Reuters exposé in February 2018 on the execution of 10 Muslim Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din; the military admitted to the killings in January, and 7 soldiers involved have been convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labor. The pair have spent more than eight months in detention. The latest hearings have demonstrated not only a lack of evidence against the two journalists—the documents they are accused of possessing are not secret, and there is no evidence of their intent to harm the country—but also included testimony from a police officer who attested that the police had framed the Reuters journalists in a pre-meditated set-up. On August 27, court officials announced that the verdict would be postponed by a week as the judge was in poor health.

“As the verdict nears, the world is watching the drama in a Myanmar courtroom, waiting to see if the promise of that country’s nascent democracy endures or has been extinguished,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer at PEN America. “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo exposed atrocities through truthful and professional reporting; the facts they unearthed are not in dispute. Evidence presented at trial makes clear that they are being punished for their work, and that there are insufficient grounds to convict. For the journalists to face a potentially harsher sentence than the convicted perpetrators of the massacre they exposed is unfathomable. We call on the judge to uphold the rule of law and acquit these dedicated reporters who have been jailed and separated from their families for more than 8 months.”

In May, PEN America honored Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo with the 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, conferred annually to imprisoned 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. At the Gala luminaries including Stephen King, Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Cynthia Nixon, and America’s leading writers, journalists and publishers joined in an urgent call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s freedom, presenting the award to members of their families.  

Also in May, dozens of literary luminaries including bestselling 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.