Two Reuters journalists jailed for seven years over Rohingya investigation

Two reporters have been sentenced to seven years' jail in Myanmar over their investigation into the Rohingya crisis.

Two Reuters journalists were jailed Monday for seven years for breaching Myanmar's official secrets act during their reporting of the Rohingya crisis, a judge said, a case that has drawn outrage as an attack on media freedom.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were arrested in Yangon in December under the Official Secrets Act for allegedly possessing top-secret documents.

The pair had been investigating a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in western Rakhine State, from where more than 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims fled military operations which the UN last week said amounted to genocide.

They were arrested after being invited to a dinner with police in Yangon and pounced on as they left the restaurant, accused of possessing classified material.

Authorities charged them with violating the colonial-era state secrets act, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years. 

The claims were undercut by a police witness who said his superior had ordered a set-up and by arguments that the allegedly secret documents had been published in state media.

But  Judge Ye Lwin was unmoved by their testimony.

"It is found that the culprits intended to harm the interests of the state.  And so they have been found guilty under the state secrets act," he told the packed Yangon court.

"They are sentenced to seven years in prison each."

Reuters journalist Wa Lone is surrounded by police and reporters outside a court in Yangon after being handed a seven year jail term.
Source: AAP

'Sad day for press'

As they were led to the waiting prison van the handcuffed duo, both Myanmar nationals, gave brief but emotional statements on the court steps.

"The government can detain us in the prison but... don't close the ears and eyes of the people," Kyaw Soe Oo said.

Wa Lone who gave a defiant "thumbs up" to the masssed ranks of reporters, said "we will face it (the verdict) with stability and courage."

Defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said that an appeal would be lodged "as soon as possible" against the verdict which Reuters denounced as based on "false charges".

"Today is a sad day for Myanmar... and the press everywhere," Stephen J. Adler, Reuters Editor-in-Chief, said in a statement, adding that the outcome was "designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press".

Britain's Ambassador to Myanmar Dan Chugg said he was "extremely disappointed" by the guilty verdict. 

Chit Su Win, wife of Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, is devastated by the guity verdict.
Source: AAP

The army has published its version of events at Inn Din village, conceding the Rohingya men were killed while in custody but saying it was a one-off act of abuse by a mix of security forces and ethnic Rakhine locals.

Monday's ruling comes a week after the release of an explosive United Nations-led study into abuses in Rakhine, accusing Myanmar's army chief of heading up a campaign of "genocide" and "crimes against humanity" against the Rohingya.

It also strongly criticised de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to use moral authority to stand up for the stateless minority.

The same day, Facebook pulled down the pages of Myanmar's army chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military top brass, in what the company said was a bid to prevent them from further fanning "ethnic and religious tensions".

As calls for Myanmar's military leaders to face an international tribunal mount, they have remained defiant, insisting last year's crackdown was a proportionate response to attacks by Rohingya militants.

Suu Kyi's reputation as a defender of human rights has been eviscerated by her refusal to speak out against the military for its handling of the Rohingya crisis or in support of the jailed reporters.

Reuters journalist Wa Lone tries to reassure onlookers as he's taken away in a police van after being sentenced to seven years' jail.
Source: AAP

Published 3 September 2018 at 2:11pm, updated 3 September 2018 at 6:32pm
Source: AFP - SBS