A court in Myanmar has rejected an appeal by two Reuters news agency reporters sentenced to seven years in jail for breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act, in a case that rallied press freedom advocates.
Lawyers for Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had lodged the appeal in November against their conviction, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime.
But High Court Judge Aung Naing on Friday said the lawyers failed to submit enough evidence to prove the pair’s innocence.
“It was a suitable punishment,” the judge in Yangon said, referring to the seven-year prison term.
The defence has the option of making a further appeal to the country’s supreme court, based in the capital, Naypyitaw.
“Today’s ruling is yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They remain behind bars for one reason: those in power sought to silence the truth,” Stephen J. Adler, Reuters Editor-in-Chief, said in a statement.
“Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar’s commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt.”
Investigation into Rohingya killings
Before their arrest in December 2017, the two journalists had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during an army crackdown that forced more than 700,000 members of the long-persecuted, mostly-Muslim minority to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
In September last year, a Yangon district court sentenced Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to seven years in prison for illegal possession of official documents, sparking an international outcry from activists and diplomats in a case seen by many as a test of Myanmar’s fledgeling democracy.
The pair were among a group of journalists named by Time magazine as its “Person of the Year”.
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in September 2018 that the reporters’ jailing had nothing to do with freedom of expression. In comments made the week after their conviction, she said they had been sentenced for handling official secrets and “were not jailed because they were journalists”.