Myanmar jails Reuters journalists for seven years | News | DW | 03.09.2018
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Myanmar jails Reuters journalists for seven years

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted of collecting state secrets by a court in Yangon. They had been investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya in Rakhine. The UN condemned the ruling, demanding the reporters' release.

Two reporters from the global news agency Reuters had pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act while investigating a crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar. On Monday, a court in Yangon sentenced them to seven years in prison.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were detained as they researched the killing of 10 Rohingya and other abuses involving soldiers and police in Inn Din, a village in western Rakhine state. 

They argued that they had been framed by police officers who handed them official documents in a Yangon restaurant before arresting them on December 12. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified they received harsh treatment during their initial interrogations. Several appeals for release were denied.

"I have no fear," Wa Lone said after the verdict. "I have not done anything wrong... I believe in justice, democracy and freedom."

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said the "verdict must be corrected by the Myanmar government as a matter of urgency." He also called the verdict "a major step backwards for Myanmar's transition to democracy."

Reuters Asia Editor Kevin Krolicki, who also works in Myanmar, told DW "what happened [today] is a chilling result for journalism in Myanmar." He added that "today's verdict unfortunately provides support to the attempts by police to cover up that very real crime," referring to the killings on which the two journalists were reporting before they were detained.

'A test of press freedom'

The landmark case attracted international attention as the Myanmar government, led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is accused of condoning and abetting a violent crackdown by Myanmar's security forces on the Rohingya minority.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he would visit Myanmar soon and would raise the case of the two journalists.

"Imprisoning journalists who write about inconvenient truths is an unconscionable blow to press freedom, and indeed everyone's freedom," Hunt wrote on Twitter.

The UN, US, UK and other ambassadors to Myanmar, some of whom were present for the ruling, condemned the ruling, calling for the reporters' immediate release. 

"The United Nations has consistently called for the release of the Reuters journalists and urged the authorities to respect their right to pursue freedom of expression and information," UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby said.

New UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was "shocked" by the verdict and echoed the call for the reporters' freedom.

"The trial was a travesty of justice, so I will urge the Myanmar government to release them as soon as possible, immediately."

German Human Rights Commissioner Bärbel Kofler also slammed the verdict, calling it a "severe setback for press freedom in the southeast Asian country." The reporters, she said, did "nothing but support the effort to find out the truth in Rakhine."

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UN releases damning report on Myanmar military

At least least 11 journalists have been arrested since last year, many under repressive laws dating back to colonial times.

A UN report stated last week that security forces committed grave human rights abuses in Rakhine state, where the military drove out more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims last year. The Myanmar government rejected the report's findings.

ng/rt (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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