A Myanmar court has sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison for breaking the Official Secrets Act while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were originally detained in December 2017 after working on an investigation into the mass killing of a number of Rohingya villagers in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
The violence was part of a conflict which the UN has described as a form of "ethnic cleansing," with military operations forcing more than 700,000 Rohingya, a minority Muslim group, to flee Myanmar to Bangladesh.
The two journalists were charged with breaching the colonial-era act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison, in July. The two men, both Myanmar nationals, pleaded not guilty.
The verdict was due last Monday, but the judge delayed it saying he was too ill to attend court that day.
Following the guilty verdict at the Yangon court Kyaw maintained the pair's innocence, but added that they were unsurprised by the verdict. "We didn't do anything wrong," he said. "We're not exactly shocked by the verdict."
The reporters were bustled from the court where a small crowd of supporters momentarily blocked policemen from pushing them into a vehicle to take them back to jail.
Than Zaw Maung, a lawyer for the reporters, said: "This is disappointing (and a blow) to democracy, rule of law and press freedom."
Both journalists testified in court that two police officers, who they had not previously met, had given them papers relating to their investigation during a meeting in a Yangon restaurant.
Shortly after, they were arrested by plainclothes officers.
In April, a Myanmar police officer, Moe Yan Naing, testified that he had witnessed a plot by senior police to frame the two journalists by planting secret documents on them.
The case has been viewed as a litmus test of press freedom and democratic rights in the Southeast Asian country. Monday's verdict prompted immediate international censure and increased criticism of Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has also faced a loss in support for her handling of the Rohingya issue.
A senior United Nations official condemned the ruling. "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," said Knut Ostby, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar.
"Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be allowed to return to their families and continue their work as journalists," Ostby added.
Both men have been in custody for almost nine months. Kyaw Soe Oo has a three-year-old daughter, while Wa Lone has yet to see his newborn daughter who was born just three weeks ago.
Following the announcement of the verdict Kyaw Soe Oo's wife, Chit Su Win, burst into tears, according to a Reuters report.
Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said the conviction was "a sad day" for the organization, the two men and "the press everywhere," adding that the verdict "must be corrected by the Myanmar government as a matter of urgency."
Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson also condemned the decision.
"This conviction of the 2 Reuters reporters is a hammer blow against media freedom in #Myanmar, showing just how afraid the #Tatmadaw & #Myanmar government are of investigative journalism and critical commentary customarily found in a real democracy," he tweeted, referring to the country's military and civilian authorities.
The Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not responded to CNN's request for comment about the verdict. (CNN)
Comments - 4
Inothalo Monday, 03 September 2018 06:38 PM
British law applied in this case.
Saman Monday, 03 September 2018 06:55 PM
Whatever the reason they have a backbone to protect state secrets. Here, the leaders invite those western media and beg to publish those state secrets.
Jaliya Monday, 03 September 2018 07:59 PM
Myanmar is a poor country [ Just like sri lanka for those who think we are a rich country cos you have embezzled money in your pocket ] with more than twice the population of sri lanka .... unlike the middle east, poor Muslims who lives in this poor Buddhist country are harmless they commit no acts of violence. Charges were breaking the Official Secrets Act while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims ... what does this dumb government expecting from a media investigation ? Keep everything to yourself and strictly adhere to some stupid secrecy Act ?
WhiteVan Monday, 03 September 2018 08:17 PM
"Much Better than white van culture"
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