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Myanmar: PEN member now serving 54-year prison sentence

Originally published on PEN International

PEN International is dismayed at the decision of Myanmar’s military junta to sentence writer, activist, and PEN Myanmar member, Wai Moe Naing to 20 years’ imprisonment for committing high treason. Already serving a 34-year prison sentence following several convictions in retaliation for his peaceful advocacy against the military coup of 1 February 2021, this latest unjust conviction follows rushed legal proceedings that violated fair trial norms.  PEN International continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those unjustly detained by the military junta for their peaceful expression in Myanmar, including Wai Moe Naing.

On 19 May 2023, Wai Moe Naing was convicted of high treason for his role as a protest leader and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment under Article 122 of Myanmar’s Penal Code, narrowly avoiding a potential death sentence. Already serving a sentence of 34 years’ imprisonment, this latest ruling results in a combined total of 54 years in prison.

‘From the military junta’s efforts to silence Wai Moe Naing, it is obvious that the regime fears his voice. When he was first assaulted and detained in April 2021, he was engaged in non-violent advocacy, holding peaceful rallies in order to explain how the military’s seizure of power violated Myanmar’s undemocratic 2008 constitution. It is a cruel injustice that Wai Moe Naing has been convicted of high treason by the same regime that has so brutally betrayed the people of Myanmar. We demand his immediate and unconditional release’, said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

A further trial on a remaining charge of murder remains. The charge is reported to relate to the killing of two police officers in the Monywa district, in central Myanmar but no evidence has emerged that links Wai Moe Naing to the crime. Wai Moe Naing’s friends and family have rejected the accusation of murder on the strongest possible terms.

As reported previously, two of Wai Moe Naing’s legal representatives have been arrested, with many others now unwilling to represent him out of fear of retaliation from the military junta, raising ongoing concerns over Wai Moe Naing’s ability to defend himself according to international fair trial norms.

PEN International considers that Wai Moe Naing’s long-term imprisonment represents a complete disregard of his right to a fair trial and is illustrative of the military junta’s willingness to use Myanmar’s legal system as a means to further its repression of dissenting voices.

Background

Wai Moe Naing is a writer, activist, and member of PEN Myanmar. He began writing as a student, with his first short story being published in Teen Magazine at the age of 13. His writing has since been published in several literary outlets, including Khit Yanantthit Magazine and Pae Tin Tharn Journal.

Prior to the military coup in February 2021, Wai Moe Naing had already developed a reputation as a committed non-violent activist due to his long-standing involvement student unions and youth groups, which included his affiliation with the Peacock Generation, a satirical poetry troupe who had several of its members detained in 2019 for allegedly criticising the military during a performance.

In the immediate aftermath of the military coup, Wai Moe Naing rose to prominence as a leader of the anti-coup protest movement and was among those who popularised the idea of banging pots and pans as a non-violent act of resistance to the military junta’s rule.

Wai Moe Naing was arrested on 15 April 2021 by junta forces after they reportedly used an unmarked vehicle to ram Wai Moe Naing while he was driving on a moped as part of a protest rally in the Monywa district. When he tried to escape on foot, a group of armed men disembarked and attacked him and a female protestor before detaining them both.

On 12 August 2022, Wai Moe Naing was found guilty of multiple counts of incitement under section 505(A) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which has been routinely used by the military junta to target critics of the regime. Following his conviction, Wai Moe Naing was initially sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. According to reports, Wai Moe Naing did not appeal the court’s ruling, stating that the allegations were not committed by him, so there was nothing to appeal.

On 20 October 2022, Wai Moe Naing was sentenced to a further four years’ imprisonment on an additional count of incitement and for violating Article 25 of Natural Disaster Management Law, a charge that has been cynically used to clamp down on public rallies following the authorities’ classification of COVID-19 as a ‘natural disaster’.

On 5 April 2023, Wai Moe Naing was convicted of several charges, including rioting, robbery and incitement, and sentenced to a further 20 years’ imprisonment, resulting in a cumulative total of 34 years in prison.

For more information about PEN International’s work on Myanmar please see Impunity Reigns – Writers resist, PEN International’s 2022 Case List, which documents 115 cases of persecuted writers worldwide, including Wai Moe Naing.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Head of Asia/ Pacific Region at PEN International. Email: [email protected]

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