(New York, NY) — In response to news reports that the Myanmar military has seized power, imposed a one-year state of emergency, carried out arrests of political leaders and activists, and shut down access to the internet and other communications channels, PEN America condemned the interruption of the democratic process and called for free expression and other fundamental rights to be respected, and for the lawfully-elected new government to be reinstated immediately.

“We implore the Myanmar military to respect democratic norms and to uphold fundamental rights to free expression and other liberties guaranteed by the constitution,” said Suzanne Nossel, PEN America’s CEO. “By detaining political leaders, disabling the internet, and seizing control of television stations, the military is reasserting brute force as the new law of the land in Myanmar, setting back the country’s long faltering hopes for democracy and the protection of human rights. The international community and Myanmar’s neighbors should reject this effort to sink the country back into the dark days of military rule. They should insist on respect for the outcome of democratic elections, freedom of the media to report on breaking developments, open access for citizens to news and information through the internet and phone service, and the release of all political prisoners, including writers and activists.”

Citing alleged electoral irregularities, including alleged discrepancies in the voter lists used in the November 8 national and regional parliamentary elections, the military assumed power, declared a state of emergency for one year, installed a new President and other ministers, and detained dozens of high-level political leaders, including state counselor and National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The NLD had swept the elections with a significant majority and was preparing to install the new national and regional parliaments on February 1. Though imperfect, the elections were deemed to have reflected the will of the voters, who overwhelmingly supported the NLD. Access to certain media channels, the internet, and other forms of communication have been curtailed or shut off, journalists have been attacked for their reporting, and alongside politicians, a number of prominent dissidents and activists have also been detained.

Myanmar has a history of long periods of military rule, accompanied by extreme censorship and extensive silencing of dissenting voices. Since the recent transition to democracy began in 2011, media, journalists, activists, and creative artists have had somewhat more freedom, but have still been subject to prosecution under repressive laws. There have been grave and legitimate concerns raised about Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership, including particularly with respect to systemic human rights abuses perpetrated by the military against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority population and the civilian government’s refusal to condemn them. For more than 18 months, an internet shutdown targeting parts of Rakhine and Chin states has already gravely limited access to information in these areas. There is every indication that Myanmar military leaders behind the coup will sustain or even intensify those repressive policies.

PEN America’s 2015 report, Unfinished Freedom: A Blueprint for the Future of Free Expression in Myanmar, offered an analysis of the myriad ways in which expression has been restricted and provided recommendations for meaningful reform.