Myanmar Reuters journalists lose appeal against 7-year sentence

Blanche Robertson
January 13, 2019

The two Reuters journalists imprisoned in Myanmar for their reporting on the violence against the Rohingya in Rahkine state have lost their appeal, with the court upholding their guilty verdict and lengthy prison sentences.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted in September a year ago in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar's progress towards democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.

File photos show Wa Lone (left) and Kyaw Soe Oo arriving at Insein court in Yangon, Myanmar. Lawyer for the journalists, U Than Zaw Aung, told reporters outside the court they were considering appealing to the highest court in the country, the Supreme Court in Naypyidaw.

"We will continue to advocate at all levels for the just release of these fearless journalists", State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said in a statement that used the USA government's preferred name for Myanmar. Judge Aung Naing said in his ruling that lawyers for the men failed to submit enough evidence to prove their innocence.

The reporters can appeal to Myanmar's Supreme Court which could take up to six months.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were among a group of journalists named in December as Time Magazine's "Person of the Year".

The reporters' work and stand for freedom of the press have earned them awards and plaudits. They asserted the lower court that tried the case had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the defendants.

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The defense also said prosecutors had failed to prove the reporters gathered and collected secret information, sent information to an enemy of Myanmar or meant to harm national security.

Supporters of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo contend they were framed because of official displeasure over their reporting on the brutal crackdown by security forces on minority Rohingya in Rakhine state. She said they meant to harm national security and the national interest.

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, herself a political prisoner before coming to power, said in September the controversial case "had nothing to do with freedom of expression at all".

"We are very anxious about due process in this case", British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told BBC radio when asked about the case.

European Union ambassador to Myanmar Kristian Schmidt, who also was at court, described the ruling as "a great disappointment and a missed opportunity to correct a wrong that has been committed against the two journalists". "We are very disappointed with the judgment", he said.

Before their arrest, the reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys by security forces and civilians in Rakhine State during an Army crackdown that began in August 2017.

The violent military campaign in 2017 forced more than 7,20,000 Rohingya travel across the border to Bangladesh, with refugees bringing their stories of murder, rape and arson.

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