After a Long Battle, Reuters Reporters Are Sentenced to Jail in Myanmar

In Myanmar, reporters have faced heavy suppression from the government by uncovering the human rights atrocities faced by Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state. One such case involved two Reuters-affiliated journalists who were arrested last December after exposing mass graves filled with Rohingya murdered by the Myanmar army.

This past week, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, specifically section 3.1c which states that a journalist can be jailed for obtaining secret government documents that are deemed to be “of use to enemies.” Myanmar Prime Minister and former Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, had accused these reporters of breaking the Official Secrets Act even before the verdict had been decided. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo now face seven years in prison.

According to Reuters Editor Stephen Adler, Lone and Oo took pictures of Rohingya victims who were brutally hacked and shot to death, and because those pictures showed the soldiers who committed those attacks, they were immediately arrested.

Reuters described this act as one of the “colonial era,” as it was created to prevent the local Burmese population from speaking out against the government. The revival of this law by the Myanmar government displays a renewed commitment towards censorship in order to prevent coverage of the Rohingya crisis.

For Wa Lone, his arrest prevented him from being present during the birth of his daughter in early August. He will spend the first years of his child’s life behind bars for displaying injustice.

The international community has rallied behind these journalists since the beginning with the Committee to Protect Journalists officially condemning the decision and the United Nations demanded immediate release.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called the trial a “travesty of justice.”

This position was further echoed by the European Union, stating that the decision “undermines the freedom of the media, the public’s right to information and the development of the rule of law in Myanmar.”

The British ambassador to Cambodia, the German foreign minister and Nikki Haley were among the other world leaders who denounced the court’s decision. Haley stated that this was a “major setback” to the state of press freedom in Myanmar.

During the trial, Police Captain Moe Yan Naing admitted to being involved with the planting of secret documents to implicate Wa Lone. Though Moe Yan Naing did not face consequences specific to this incident, he was sent to jail for unrelated charges including speaking to Wa Lone, which was found to be a violation of police discipline.

 

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