NEW YORK—The decision of Myanmar’s president to grant an amnesty to Reuters journalists and 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is a long overdue restoration of freedom for these two brave journalists and cause for great celebration, PEN America said in a statement today.

On May 7, the pair were included in a mass presidential amnesty of thousands of prisoners, and were freed from Insein prison. The decision comes shortly on the heels of an April 23 Supreme Court decision upholding their original conviction, following on from a rejection of a similar appeal by the Yangon Regional High Court in January. The two reporters were initially convicted and sentenced to 7 years in prison on September 3, 2018. Arrested on December 12, 2017, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act; both pleaded not guilty to the charges. Prior to their arrest, the pair had been investigating the execution of 10 Muslim Rohingya men in the village of Inn Din. Their work contributed to a Reuters exposé published in February 2018, for which they and their colleagues won a Pultizer Prize for international reporting in April 2019. The military admitted to the killings and convicted 7 soldiers involved in the crimes in early 2018.  Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s trial made clear 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 confirmed that the police had framed the Reuters journalists in a pre-meditated set-up. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent more than 500 days in prison, separated from their young families.

“We are elated that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have at last been freed to reunite with their families,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “Although Myanmar failed shamefully to redress the injustice of their trumped-up arrest and conviction on spurious evidence, we are relieved that their ordeal behind bars is over. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have proven their courage and fortitude, never once wavering in their claims of innocence. Young men who had proven themselves as world renowned journalists, they have long and important careers ahead of them carrying out the essential work of holding Myanmar’s fledgling new government accountable and keeping their country’s deserving public informed. They should now be allowed to return to their work without hindrance. PEN America is proud to have catalyzed the campaign for their freedom nearly a year ago by presenting them with their first major international Award creating a drumbeat that has finally helped yield their freedom.”

In May 2018, PEN America honored Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo with the 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, conferred annually on an imprisoned writer or writers targeted for exercising freedom of speech. Of the 43 jailed writers who have received the award since 1987, 39 have now 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, Morgan Freeman, Cynthia Nixon and America’s leading writers, journalists and publishers joined in an urgent call for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s freedom, and Margaret Atwood presented the award to members of their families. 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, also signed an open letter urging Myanmar authorities to release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. In November, more than 50 of the world’s leading human rights and free expression organizations joined together to condemn the verdict and call for the journalists’ release. And on December 22, PEN Myanmar presented an “Outstanding Protection of Free Expression” Award to Captain Moe Yan Naing, the police officer who testified at the Reuters journalists’ trial, praising the whistleblower for practicing free expression and telling the truth despite the consequences for himself and his family. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were among the journalists, described as “The Guardians,” selected by Time Magazine as its 2018 Person of the Year.

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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 Manager: agasparian@pen.org