The decision of a Myanmar judge today to allow the prosecution of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to move forward is a miscarriage of justice, said PEN America in a statement today.
“Myanmar’s prosecutors are engaged in a politically motivated effort to punish the crime of journalism,” said PEN America Chief Executive Officer Suzanne Nossel. “Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in the course of compiling a rigorous, objective and graphic expose of irrefutable brutality. Their arrest and imprisonment is a black mark on Myanmar’s nascent democracy, reflecting the country’s refusal to reckon honestly with the crisis in Rakhine and denial of the essential role of the press in a free society. The charges against them should be dropped, and they and others should be free to report robustly in Rakhine State.”
The two reporters were arrested on December 12, 2017 and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act for their work investigating violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Their reporting contributed to an early February Reuters exposé on the torching and pillage of Inn Din, a village in Rakhine state, including the execution of 10 Muslim Rohingya men accused by the military of participating in political unrest. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent nearly four months in prison. International monitors and news reports have highlighted the paucity of evidence against them.
In February, PEN America announced that it would award the 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo; the award, conferred annually, recognizes an imprisoned writer or writers targeted for exercising freedom of speech. Of the 42 jailed writers who have received the award since 1987, 38 have been released due in part to the global attention and pressure the award generates.
The Freedom to Write Award was bestowed on Burmese writers on four occasions during the rule of Myanmar’s military government; each of those honorees served a number of years in prison. In its 2015 report, Unfinished Freedom: A Blueprint for the Future of Free Expression in Myanmar, PEN America details the fraught landscape for free expression in Myanmar, in particular for media freedom, in the years following the end of the military junta’s rule. This is the first time that PEN America has recognized honorees from Myanmar since the country held elections in 2015, marking international recognition that, despite significant political reforms, the situation for human rights and free expression in the country is grave and worsening.