The decision of a Myanmar court to sentence two Reuters journalists to seven years in prison for violating the Official Secrets Act represents a pre-determined outcome to a sham trial, that is having a chilling impact on civil society and press freedom in the country, Global Witness said today.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested last year for allegedly handling secret documents relating to the Myanmar army’s crackdown on the Rohingya minority in Northern Rakhine State. During their trial a police officer involved in the case and the two reporters testified that they were set up by the authorities. The two journalists had been investigating an army massacre of ten Rohingya in Inn Din village in Rakhine State at the time of their arrest, which the military later admitted and punished several low level soldiers for abuses.
“Today’s verdict and the sham trial of these brave journalists, has had a chilling effect on Myanmar civil society and the media. Under Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD government we continue to see a decline in space for civil society and an increase in governmental efforts to protect the military from accountability for abuses,” said Paul Donowitz, Campaign Leader for Myanmar at Global Witness. “Today’s verdict sends a stark warning to independent journalists and researchers and others who would dare speak out and investigate controversial issues that the Myanmar army remains above public scrutiny and criticism despite the ostensible transition to civilian rule.”
Last week, a United Nations fact finding mission for Myanmar released a scathing report accusing the Myanmar army of committing mass atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly genocide, in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states. The Myanmar military (tatmadaw) continues to dominate the political and economic landscape in Myanmar, obstructing the prospect for genuine democratic reforms.
“The National League for Democracy government should immediately issue an unconditional pardon for Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo,” added Donowitz. “If anything it is the Myanmar army’s campaign of brutality across the country that should be investigated by the authorities.”
Paul Donowitz, Campaign Leader, Myanmar
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