Myanmar media, activists condemn conviction of Reuters reporters

A Myanmar court has found two Reuters journalists guilty of breaching a law on state secrets during their reporting of a massacre of Rohingya and sentenced them to seven years in prison, sparking an international outcry.  The US and British ambassadors who were present at the sentencing of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on Monday called the verdict a blow for Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

Several Myanmar news outlets and dozens of civil society groups denounced the jailing of two Reuters reporters for seven years under the Official Secrets Act, and said their conviction was an assault on the right to freedom of information.

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A court found the two journalists guilty on Monday in a landmark case seen as a test of progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which was ruled by a military junta until 2011. Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were investigating the killing of villagers from the Rohingya Muslim minority by security forces and civilians when they were arrested in December. They had pleaded not guilty.

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The privately owned 7 Day Daily, one of Myanmar’s most widely read newspapers, printed a black block on its front page on Tuesday with an editorial headlined “A sad day for Myanmar”.

The newspaper said the sentences “end the hope that the current government will value and respect media freedom”, adding that the government had earned a reputation for oppressing the media, as previous military governments had done.

“Everyone needs to be aware that democracy will not survive in an information dark age,” the newspaper said. Myanmar abolished direct media censorship in 2012, as part of reforms by a quasi-civilian regime that led to elections in 2015 won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. Government spokesman Zaw Htay could not be reached for comment about the verdict either on Monday or Tuesday.

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“This legislation was not enacted by this government, we inherited it,” he told Reuters. “We’re trying to review the laws. Some will be abolished, if necessary, and some amended.”

An editor of the Irrawaddy online news magazine, Kyaw Zwa Moe, said Suu Kyi and President Win Myint had to understand the case was about the people’s right to know.

“There is nothing wrong in what these particular Reuters reporters did; like any journalists they were simply doing their jobs by attempting to gather information so as to uncover the truth,” wrote Kyaw Zwa Moe, who was a political prisoner during military rule.