Two Reuters journalists who were accused of breaching Myanmar’s state secrets law during reporting of a massacre of Rohingya Muslims were on Monday jailed for seven years.
A court in Yangon sentenced Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. The conviction has drawn outrage over the attack on press freedom and calls for their immediate release.
On the court steps, Kyaw Soe Oo was quoted as saying that the government could detain them in the prison but… “don’t close the ears and eyes of the people.” Wa Lone said they would will face the verdict with stability and courage.
Meanwhile, the Defence lawyer was reported to have said that an appeal would be lodged “as soon as possible” against the verdict.
Condemning the order, Human Rights Watch said that the Myanmar court’s conviction of two Reuters journalists on politically motivated charges heralds a return to the media repression seen during military rule.
“The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts’ willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities,” said Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams. “These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government,” Adams said.
The two were arrested on December 12 after being invited to meet with police officials at a restaurant in Yangon, where they were handed rolled-up papers allegedly linked to the security force operations in Rakhine State. The Myanmar Police Force announced that the journalists were arrested for “illegally obtaining and possessing government documents,” with the intent “to send them to a foreign news agency.”
Witness accounts of the arrest point to a case of entrapment. In April, a police captain testified that Police Brig. Gen. Tin Ko Ko had ordered the officers to “entrap” the journalists by planting “secret” documents on them.
“Myanmar’s leadership should immediately quash the verdicts and release Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. These convictions won’t hide the horrors against the Rohingya from the world – they merely reveal the precarious state of free speech in the country and the urgent need for international action to free these journalists,” Adams said.