The anguish of a loving husband and father

Frontier joins Ma Pan Ei Mon as she visits her husband, Reuters journalist Ko Wa Lone, in Insein Prison six days before she is due to give birth to their first child.


ON AUGUST 4, 235 days after he was detained in circumstances that have caught the attention of the world, an inmate was waiting in the visitors’ room at Insein Prison to see his heavily pregnant wife.

It was six days before he was due to become a father for the first time and his mind was a flurry of worry and hope.

But then his wife arrived and he hid his cares behind a warm and loving smile. Separated by a glass partition, they spoke through a telephone.

You’re sure to have seen that smile before, usually together with a thumbs-up gesture restricted by handcuffs, during appearances at Yangon’s Northern District Court, where Ko Wa Lone, 32, is on trial with his Reuters colleague, Ko Kyaw Soe Oo, 28. They have pleaded not guilty to breaching the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. If convicted they could be sent to prison for 14 years.

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Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been in custody since they were controversially arrested in Yangon’s northern outskirts on December 12 after being invited to a restaurant by police officers.

The invitation came while they were investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya men at Inn Din village in northern Rakhine State on September 2, 2017.

Wa Lone has been depressed about not being able to be with his beloved wife, Ma Pan Ei Mon, 36, for the birth of their child, who they knew would be a girl.

“I’m feeling pretty bad,” he told Frontier in the visitor’s room at Insein Prison on August 4. “I knew she was pregnant when I was detained and I wish I could be with her to give support. I have so many dreams for my baby. I’m always thinking about that and trying not to be downhearted.”

Wa Lone said he did not want his daughter to become a reporter because he feared she would also one day end up in prison for her work. “But that’s not because I don’t like being a reporter,” he said.

Wa Lone has big ambitions for his daughter, though, and hopes she might become a researcher focused on social studies.

“I want her to have the great education that I was unable to have,” he said.

Pan Ei Mon supports Wa Lone’s ambitions for their daughter, but said she would not object if she wanted to follow her father and become a journalist.

“I want her to follow her ambition in life. I won’t interfere with that,” Pan Ei Mon said.

Both Wa Lone and Pan Ei Mon are practising Buddhists, and they said that they believed his imprisonment was a necessary step to atone for a sin in a previous life.

“But I don’t want it to cause any harm to my daughter,” Pan Ei Mon said.

Wa Lone said he wanted to name his daughter Angelina Thet Htar Ei Mon because he hoped she would bring good luck to him and Pan Ei Mon.

“Angelina comes from angel. While her father is facing rough times, I hope that she will bring luck for me. Pan Ei will also accept that name, I think,” said Wa Lone.

In the visitors’ room at Insein, Wa Lone and Pan Ei Mon argued briefly over whether to include “Ei Mon” in their daughter’s name.

The couple eventually named their daughter Thet Htar Angel. She was born at 5.39am on August 10.

Wa Lone joined Reuters Yangon bureau in 2016 after leaving Myanmar Times, where his newsroom colleagues included Ma Myat Nyein Aye, who recalled his devotion to Pan Ei Mon.

“He loves his wife so much; it makes me very sad that they are apart,” Myat Nyein Aye said.

Pan Ei Mon had been praying that her husband would be released the day their daughter was born.

“If he was freed that day, it would be happiest day for our family,” she said. “He so much wants to see his daughter’s face.”

The case against the two Reuters reporters has involved more than 30 pre-trial and trial hearings, at which a common sight has been Wa Lone and Pan Ei Mon holding hands whenever they are able.

The birth of Thet Htar Angel means that Pan Ei Mon is unlikely to attend the next hearing on August 20, at which lawyers for both sides will present their final arguments.

Ever solicitous, Wa Lone had loving advice for his wife when her prison visit ended.

“Take care of your health and the baby,” he said.

TOP PHOTO: Ko Wa Lone and Ma Pan Ei Mon hold hands outside Yangon’s Northern District Court. (Steve Tickner | Frontier)

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