A court in Myanmar sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years imprisonment for violating a state secrets act while investigating violence against the Rohingya minority.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, nationals of Myanmar, were arrested for carrying official documents that they had received by police officers. They have maintained that they are innocent, saying they were set up by police. The case has been widely seen as a test of press freedom in Myanmar. “I am not scared,” Wa Lone said after the verdict. “I have not done anything wrong. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.”
The two men, who have families with young children, have been imprisoned since December 2017.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are Myanmar citizens who were working for Reuters. They were collecting evidence about the murders of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine in September 2017. They were arrested after being handed over some important documents by two policemen. A police witness testified during the trial that the restaurant meeting was planned to trap the journalists.
The United Nations called the army’s response – including murders, tortures, rape, sexual slavery, persecution and enslavement – “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats.” A UN Report released last week called for military leaders to face genocide charge for their actions. Myanmar rejected the report. It sees the Rohingya – who have their own culture and language as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo stood with their heads bowed as the verdict was delivered while their families broke down in tears. Wa Lone who missed the birth of his first child while imprisoned – pleaded innocence as he was led away. Many saw the verdict as a crushing blow to the freedom of press in Myanmar and another setback to democracy, three years after Aung San Suu Kyi’s party triumphed in free elections.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and press freedom anywhere,” said Reuters editor-in-chief Stephan Adler.
“We are extremely disappointed by the verdict,” said Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar Dan Chugg. The UN’s resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in Myanmar, Knut Ostby said the UN had “consistently called for the release of the journalists and that a free press is essential for peace, justice and human rights for all. We are disappointed by the court’s decision.”