Two Reuters journalists who exposed the state killings of Rohingya Muslims were jailed for seven years in Myanmar today amid warnings the pair were framed by the police.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo remained defiant after a judge sentenced them for breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act when they were arrested last December carrying documents given to them by police officers.
Wa Lone said after the verdict: “I have no fear. I have not done anything wrong. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom.”
Journalist unions condemned the sentencing as an attack on press freedom and warned they were victims of “an entrapment scam by police,” accusing the government of “failing to protect journalists investigating human rights abuses.”
International Federation of Journalists said in a statement: “Their arrest and persistent detention is a deplorable violation of international rights, raising concern about the increasingly oppressive authorities in Myanmar silencing critical expression.
“This verdict demonstrates just how the military apparatus pressure to repress critical voices has been overbearing on the courts and restricted their ability to adjudicate impartially.”
The two Myanmar nationals were arrested last year after meeting police officials who promised them “leaked documents” as part of the journalists’ investigations into potential war crimes committed against the country’s Rohingya minority.
They were investigating the September 2017 massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys, amid strong suspicion that the killings were connected to the leadership of Myanmar’s army.
An initial military report into the killings cleared them of all responsibility, but a UN report suggested last week that army generals should stand trial for war crimes committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine state.
The army eventually admitted the atrocities took place and seven soldiers were jailed for their role in the killings.
At least 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar after violence erupted last year with accusations of killings, rape and torture. The brutal crackdown on Rohingya followed alleged attacks on police stations, but the UN branded the government’s response “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats.”
Journalists marched in Yangon last week in protest against the treatment of the pair and to defend press freedom in Myanmar.
The Myanmar Journalists Association said: “The court’s decision is bad for the country, it is bad for democracy, it is bad for freedom of expression. Nobody benefits from this. It shows to the world that there is no press freedom in Myanmar which is walking on the democracy platform.”