Sunday, 20 January, 2019

Myanmar Reuters journalists lose appeal against 7-year sentence

Detained Reuters journalist Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo arrive at court last August Modal Trigger Detained Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo arrive at court last August. Reuters
Kenny Thornton | 13 January, 2019, 09:58

Two journalists jailed for breaching the country's official secrets act had an appeal against their seven year sentence rejected today by a Myanmar court.

"The decision on Wa Lone & Kyaw Soe Oo's appeal Friday will show whether Myanmar is truly committed to rule of law & freedom of expression", the Asia Desk of the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote on Twitter before the decision was issued.

The judge said the defendants did not follow journalistic ethics and that the court could not determine whether the arrest of the reporters was a trap. Myanmar authorities must release the two journalists immediately and unconditionally.

Aung Naing, a judge at the Yangon Regional High Court, said Friday the original verdict was "not wrong according to the law" and was a "reasonable decision".

The reporters can appeal to Myanmar's Supreme Court which could take up to six months. "We can not stand by and accept this antidemocratic decision.Journalists must have the freedom to report the facts and to defend, expose and advance the truth without fear of retaliation, violence, imprisonment or being killed".

Lawyers for Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had filed the appeal in November against their conviction, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime. They told the appeal court the lower court that tried the case had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the defendants.

The reporters have contended they were framed by police because of official displeasure over their reporting on the brutal crackdown by security forces on minority Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

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"We thought that they would be free today", she said.

The UN recommended that top Myanmar military commanders be investigated for genocide, and called out Myanmar's civilian leader, former pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to stop the violence or even to acknowledge it. Myanmar state media under her control had roundly rejected anti-Rohingya atrocity allegations as "fake news".

Asked about the case by BBC radio, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt urged Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, to "recognize that, as someone who fought for democracy in Burma, she should be taking a personal interest in the future of these two fearless journalists". "It can not be said that it was a set-up", he said.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay was not available for comment.

Kristian Schmidt, the European Union ambassador to Myanmar said Friday's ruling was a "miscarriage of justice and it gives us great concern for the independence of the justice system of Myanmar". "We are very disappointed with the judgment", he said.

Prosecutors say the two had classified information regarding security operations in Rakhine state, from where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled during an army-led crackdown the United Nations has described as "ethnic cleansing".

The violent military campaign in 2017 forced more than 720,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh, with refugees bringing accounts of murder, rape and arson.

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