(NEW YORK)–PEN America issued the statement below from Karin Deutsch Kariekar, director of Free Expression at Risk programs, calling for the release of Myanmar writer Wai Moe Naing, who was convicted and sentenced by a military court on Aug. 12 to 10 years in prison on multiple charges of “incitement.” 

“The sentencing of Wai Moe Naing following months of arbitrary detention and an unfair trial blatantly flouts international judicial standards and reveals the Myanmar junta’s deliberate effort to silence dissent and enforce an oppressive regime of military rule,” said Karlekar, “His sentencing indicates a further escalation of threats to free expression in Myanmar as a result of the military coup. We are deeply concerned about the safety of Wai Moe Naing, especially in light of the recent secret military executions of four pro-democracy activists, including musician Phyo Zayar Thaw and writer Ko Jimmy, for speaking out against the brutality of the regime. We urge Myanmar’s military to immediately and unconditionally release Wai Moe Naing and others unjustly detained for their expression.”

Wai Moe Naing was violently arrested on April 15, 2021 as he was participating in a protest rally in the Monywa region, and was later beaten in detention. On Aug. 12, he was found guilty of and subsequently sentenced for committing multiple counts of “incitement” under section 505(A) of the Penal Code, which has routinely been used by the military junta to target critics of the regime. Additionally, he was forced to represent himself in court without a lawyer after the junta also arrested his two lawyers, Moe Zaw Tun and Tin Win Aung, in a crackdown on lawyers defending political detainees. Wai Moe Naing continues to face a number of baseless charges including murder and unlawful association.

As detailed in PEN America’s December 2021 report “Stolen Freedoms: Creative Expression, Historic Resistance, and the Myanmar Coup,” Myanmar’s vibrant creative community of writers, poets, filmmakers, painters, musicians, satirists, graphic artists, and others who have stood at the forefront of reform and free expression faced violent oppression from the junta after the February 2021 military coup. In addition to targeted detentions and extrajudicial killings, the military junta sought to limit online expression and organization through repeated internet shut-downs, online censorship, and increased surveillance via telecommunications companies. Following the military coup, Myanmar jailed the third-highest number of writers and intellectuals in the world in 2021, according to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index. For more information on our advocacy on Myanmar, click here.

About PEN America

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. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, STrimel@PEN.org, 201-247-5057