World

Reuters journalists given seven years in jail, sparking outrage

Reuters journalists given seven years in jail, sparking outrage

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had pleaded not guilty to violating the colonial-era act, an offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Prosecutors accused the men of obtaining secret state documents, in breach of the Official Secrets Act. "The time already served by the defendants from Dec 12 will be taken into consideration", the judge said.

The two journalists were being tried since 2017 for breaching Myanmar's Official Secrets Act while investigating violence against the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state by the army, the BBC reported.

"Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere", said Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler.

The Myanmar government has alleged that the two journalists acquired information illegally with the intention of passing it on to foreign media.

A Myanmar court's conviction of two Reuters journalists on politically motivated charges heralds a return to the media repression seen during military rule, Human Rights Watch said today.

They have maintained their innocence, saying they were set up by police.

The court earlier this year declined to stop the trial after an initial phase of presentation of evidence, even though a policeman called as a prosecution witness testified that his commander had ordered that documents be planted on the journalists.

Wearing black T-shirts inscribed with "Free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo", the protesters marched from Hledan to the banks of Inya Lake shouting, "The right to know the news!"

"I have no fear", Wa Lone, one of the two journalists, said after the verdict. "These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi's government".

"This is a major step backward in Myanmar's transition to democracy [and] can not be squared with the rule of law or freedom of speech".

Britain's Ambassador to Myanmar Dan Chugg said he was "extremely disappointed" by the guilty verdict.

They had been arrested last December while carrying official documents given to them by police.

More than 700,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims have fled into Bangladesh since then, according to United Nations agencies.

Myanmar has denied allegations of atrocities made by thousands of refugees against its security forces, saying it conducted a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against Rohingya fighters.

Some of the reporters' supporters shouted "let them speak" and jostled with police as they were driven back to prison.

The reporters, both Burmese nationals, said that police officers had invited them to dinner in Yangon and handed them documents, only for the pair to be arrested upon leaving the restaurant....

The verdict comes a year after the crisis in Rakhine state came to a head when a Rohingya militant group attacked several police posts.

Last week, United Nations investigators said Myanmar's military leaders should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity and said the mass killings of Rohingya constituted genocide. They contended they were framed by police after exposing extrajudicial killings of Rohingya Muslims by the military in Rakhine state.


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