Myan­mar Reuters jour­nal­ists lose ap­peal against sen­tence

The Phnom Penh Post - - ASEAN -

TWO Reuters jour­nal­ists jailed for seven years while in­ves­ti­gat­ing atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against the Ro­hingya in Myan­mar had their ap­peal dis­missed on Fri­day, dis­may­ing col­leagues and tear­ful fam­ily mem­bers who had held slim hopes they would walk free.

Re­porters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were ar­rested in Yan­gon in De­cem­ber 2017 and later jailed for vi­o­lat­ing the state se­crets act, a charge Reuters said was trumped up to muz­zle their re­port­ing.

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 UN has de­scribed as “eth­nic cleans­ing”.

Aung Naing, a judge at the Yan­gon Re­gional High Court, said the orig­i­nal ver­dict was a “rea­son­able de­ci­sion” de­liv­ered in line with the law. “The court de­cides to dis­miss the ap­peal.”

The re­porters’ wives cried after the de­ci­sion, which con­demns the pair to con­tinue their in­car­cer­a­tion at Yan­gon’s no­to­ri­ous In­sein prison, where they have been held for the last 13 months.

“I feel re­ally sad that what we hoped for did not hap­pen,” a stone-faced Chit Su Win, who is mar­ried to Kyaw Soe Oo, told re­porters out­side the court.

Wa Lone’s wife Pan Ei Mon – who has given birth to a baby girl since her hus­band was put be­hind bars – was sim­i­larly de­spon­dent.

“I don’t want to talk about the de­ci­sion to­day as it is not good news,” she said.

The two men – who were not present for the de­ci­sion – have in­sisted they were vic­tims of a po­lice set-up, point­ing to tes­ti­mony from a serv­ing of­fi­cer who said a su­pe­rior or­dered oth­ers to en­trap them.

At the time of the ar­rest they were prob­ing the ex­tra­ju­di­cial killing of 10 Ro­hingya at Inn Din vil­lage in north­ern Rakhine state.

“They re­main be­hind bars for one rea­son: those in power sought to si­lence the truth,” Reuters ed­i­tor-in-chief Stephen J Adler said in a state­ment on Fri­day.

The orig­i­nal trial was widely re­garded as a sham and seen as pun­ish­ment for their in­ves­ti­ga­tion and a warn­ing shot to other me­dia.

Out­side the coun­try, the two men have been hailed as me­dia free­dom he­roes and jointly named Time mag­a­zine’s Per­son of the Year 2018, along­side other high-pro­file jour­nal­ists. But they have gained lit­tle sym­pa­thy within Myan­mar.

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

UN in­ves­ti­ga­tors have called for top gen­er­als to be in­ves­ti­gated for geno­cide and sin­gled out de facto civil­ian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for crit­i­cism for fail­ing to con­demn the op­er­a­tions.

The im­age of the for­merly renowned cham­pion of hu­man rights has been fur­ther dam­aged by the Reuters con­vic­tion.

In her most com­pre­hen­sive com­ments on their case in Septem­ber, Suu Kyi de­nied the pair had been jailed “be­cause they were jour­nal­ists” and en­dorsed the court de­ci­sion that “they had bro­ken the Of­fi­cial Se­crets Act”.

Op­tions are dwin­dling young men.

The le­gal team can lodge an ap­peal with Myan­mar’s Supreme Court but some see a pres­i­den­tial par­don as an­other way out, even though the pres­i­dent, Win Myint, is a Suu Kyi loy­al­ist. for the two

In­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion

The US said it was “deeply dis­ap­pointed” by the ver­dict and pledged to press the jour­nal­ists’ case.

“A free and in­de­pen­dent press should be pro­tected in any democ­racy. To­day’s rul­ing casts doubt not only on free­dom of ex­pres­sion in Burma, but also raises ques­tions about Burma’s com­mit­ment to the rule of law,” US State Depart­ment spokesman Robert Pal­ladino said, us­ing Myan­mar’s for­mer name.

Re­act­ing out­side the court, EU am­bas­sador to Myan­mar Kris­tian Sch­midt said he looked to the pres­i­dent to “cor­rect the in­jus­tice”.

Speak­ing on the BBC, UK For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt urged Suu Kyi “to look at whether that due process” was fol­lowed in the case, call­ing on the fallen rights icon to take “a per­sonal in­ter­est in the fu­ture of these two brave jour­nal­ists”.

YE AUNG THU/AFP

Myan­mar jour­nal­ist Wa Lone is es­corted after be­ing sen­tenced by a court to jail in Yan­gon on Septem­ber 3.

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