Myanmar: Two Reuters Reporters Sentenced To Seven Years In Prison For Reporting On Rohingya 'Genocide'
A Myanmar court on September 3 found two Reuters reporters guilty and sentenced them to seven years in prison for illegal possession of documents. While giving the verdict presiding judge Ye Lwin stated that the reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have breached the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. This landmark judgement has drawn criticism from the western countries and press freedom activists alike who are considering this development as a blow to the freedom of the press in Myanmar.
How were the Reuters reporters arrested?
According to BBC, both Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28 are Myanmar nationals who were working as reporters for the international news agency. They were reporting on the murder of 10 Rohingya men by the army in the village of Inn Din in northern Rakhine in Myanmar. Before the report could get published, the duo was arrested by the police moments after being handed some documents by two policemen whom the two reporters had met at a restaurant for the first time.
Reportedly, both the reporters, who have young daughters have been behind the bars for nearly nine months, the duration of which is to be deducted from their 7-year-long prison sentences, observed the judge.
At the time of their arrest they had been working on an investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men. They face up to 14 yrs in prison if convicted.
Posted by The Logical Indian on Wednesday, July 11, 2018
Not pleading guilty under the Official Secrets Act
According to Al Jazeera, both the reporters had pleaded not guilty and held their ground while contending that they were framed by the police. In fact, one police official even testified to the fact that the restaurant meeting was set up to entrap the reporters for reporting on the atrocity of the Rohingya men. The police official was then jailed for a year for violating police regulations.
The reporters also testified that both of them were just doing their work and functioning like normal reporters and that they did not solicit any secret document. As several appeals for bail had earlier been rejected, the only way out is for the defence to appeal to the regional court first and then the Supreme Court.
The archaic act, under which the reporters have been arrested was set in place by the British in 1923 which makes the sharing of any kind of information held by the government a criminal offence. The specific charges against the reporters come from section 3 of the said act which accuses the two of passing information that could be ‘useful to enemy.’
Court decision drew flak
A number of countries including the USA, UK and Bangladesh among others as well as human rights groups have demanded the immediate release of the journalists, reported Al Jazeera. Additionally, the European Union’s foreign policy service condemned the move and said that it undermines freedom of the media as well as the development of the rule of law in the country. The EU has also demanded immediate acquittal of the two reporters.
Chaos outside the Myanmar court that sentenced Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to 7 years in jail. "Let them speak to media! Let them speak to us!" their fellow reporters cry as the police take our friends back to their cells. #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo Video by @cape_diamond pic.twitter.com/Kf676BeCYK
— Andrew RC Marshall (@Journotopia) September 3, 2018
According to the Times Of India, Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler said, “Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo journalists, and the press everywhere.”
The decision comes amidst the release of a United Nations-led study which accuses the country’s army chief of “genocide” among other charges which led to the ongoing humanitarian crisis for the now stateless Rohingya Muslims. About 7,00,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee the country after the security officials launched a brutal crackdown as a response to a Rohingya militant group attacking several police posts last year.
Addressing the media after the sentencing, Kyaw Soe Oo said, “What I want to say to the government is: you can put us in jail, but do not close the eyes and ears of the people.”