Myanmar court sentences Reuters reporters to 7 years
Yangon, Myanmar – A Myanmar court sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison Monday on charges of illegal possession of official documents, a ruling met with international condemnation that will add to outrage over the military’s human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had been reporting on the brutal crackdown on the Rohingya when they were arrested and charged with violating the colonial-era Official Secrets Act, punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They had pleaded not guilty, contending that they were framed by police.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Stephen J. Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief, said in a statement. He said the charges were “designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press.”
The case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how democratic reforms in long-isolated Myanmar have stalled under the civilian government of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which took power in 2016. Though the military, which ruled the country for a half-century, maintains control of several key ministries, Suu Kyi’s rise to government had raised hopes for an accelerated transition to full democracy and her stance on the Rohingya crisis has disappointed many former admirers.
As the verdict was announced in the hot Yangon courtroom, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife started crying, leaning into the lap of the person next to her. Outside the court, police and journalists shouted as the two Reuters reporters were led to a truck to be taken away.
“This is unfair,” Wa Lone told the crowd. “I want to say they are obviously threatening our democracy and destroying freedom of the press in our country.”
Kevin Krolicki, Reuters regional editor for Asia, said outside the court that it was “heartbreaking for friends and colleagues and family of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who in addition to the outrage many will feel, are deprived of their friends and colleagues, husband and father.”
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, both testified they suffered from harsh treatment during their initial interrogations after their arrests last December. Their several appeals for release on bail were rejected. Wa Lone’s wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to the couple’s first child in Yangon on Aug. 10, but Wa Lone has not yet seen his daughter.
The two journalists had been reporting last year on the brutal crackdown by security forces on the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Some 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape the violence targeting them after attacks by Rohingya militants killed a dozen members of the security forces.
Investigators working for the U.N.’s top human rights body said last week that genocide charges should be brought against senior Myanmar military officers over the crackdown.