SOME of the literary world’s biggest names, along with Hollywood stars and renowned newscasters, have written an open letter to Burma’s president calling for the immediate release of two Reuters journalists who have been detained since January.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who are charged with possession of secret documents, were also the recipients of the 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award at the PEN Literary Gala in New York on Tuesday night.
The famous names – Alec Baldwin, Morgan Freeman and Stephen King among them – came out in support of the imprisoned reporters, sharing their support on social media.
Morgan Freeman, @StephenKing, @MargaretAtwood, and @Egangoonsquad call for the release of @Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo at the 2018 #PENgala. #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo pic.twitter.com/hKWLuJhEAG
— PEN America (@PENamerican) May 22, 2018
Many, including CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour, actress Molly Ringwald, and author Ian McEwan, lent their name to the letter calling on the government to “drop all charges against these courageous journalists and ensure that they and others have the right to report freely and without fear of repercussions.”
At the time of their arrest, the reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys in a village in western Burma’s Rakhine state. The killings happened during an army crackdown that has sent nearly 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
The work of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo is “essential in holding the Myanmar government to account,” the open letter to the president said. It is also a crucial tool in exposing the international community to the ethnic violence and abuses faced by the Rohingya Muslims.
While the world was hopeful for the future of press freedom and human rights in Burma once the civilian-led government came to power in 2015, headed by former freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi, that hope has subsided, the letter said.
“Journalists continue to be jailed for their work, while citizens’ ability to be informed about events of national importance, particularly the crisis in Rakhine state, has been severely circumscribed by journalists’ inability to report from the conflict zone.”
Such a moving show of support at the PEN America gala for our jailed Reuters colleagues Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. THANK YOU, @MargaretAtwood, @StephenKing, Morgan Freeman, @CharlesMBlow, @Egangoonsquad, @WajahatAli, @PENamerican and many others. More here: https://t.co/e65YeOoK6i pic.twitter.com/7qzOceMjxc
— Andrew RC Marshall (@Journotopia) May 23, 2018
The Handmaid’s Tale author, Margaret Atwood, also spoke at the event and read a statement from the jailed pair.
“The truth about what happened in Rakhine is important for our country. Without the truth, we can never solve our country’s problems,” Atwood said on behalf of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
“The award is an encouragement that we have the backing of people from around the world who love the freedom of the press and democratic values.”
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo’s case has become a landmark for press freedom in Burma.
In April a police officer involved in the case admitted the two journalists were framed by Burmese authorities.
Police Captain Moe Yan Naing told the court that Police Brigadier General Tin Ko Ko, who led the internal probe, ordered the police to arrange a “set-up” to ensnare the journalists. Police officers arrested the journalists just moments after allegedly handing them the sensitive documents.
Moe Yan Naing has since been jailed for a year for violating police discipline and hopes of having the case thrown out of court have come to nothing.
Global advocates for press freedom, human rights activists, as well the United Nations and several Western countries, have called for the release of the Reuters journalists.