NGO PEN America has expressed its alarm over the High Court decision to uphold the conviction of the seven-year prison sentences of the two Myanmar Reuters journalists.
The following is the statement issued by PEN America on 11 January:
The High Court decision to uphold the conviction of and 7-year prison sentences for Reuters journalists and 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award honorees Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is a travesty of justice, and we call on the Myanmar government to intervene and grant both men a pardon, said PEN America in a statement.
Ruling on their appeal, which was heard on December 24, the judge rejected their appeal and upheld the original verdict and 7-year sentence handed down 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 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. Hearings during their trial clearly 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. As a result of their work, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have spent more than a year in prison, separated from their families. Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to their daughter, Thet Htar Angel, on August 10, 2018, while Wa Lone was in prison.
“Yet again Myanmar’s justice system has turned its backs on the principles of rule of law and respect for rights that are the litmus test of democracy,” said Suzanne Nossel, Chief Executive Officer of PEN America. “The wrongful conviction and harsh sentence imposed on these two young, intrepid journalists whose only alleged wrongdoing was having the temerity to expose grave crimes by Myanmar’s military is a travesty. Their wives are being deprived of companionship and their children forced to grow up without their fathers. Myanmar’s government has been impervious to the outrage of its own public, a citizenry coming to the devastating realization that the rights and freedoms they yearned for during the years of the junta are still beyond their grasp. This cruel travesty of justice must be righted immediately and we call on Myanmar’s military and Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to grant them a pardon without delay so they can return to their families and their work.”
In May 2018, PEN America honored Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo with the 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, conferred annually 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, 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, 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. 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 and is currently also in jail, 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.