Los Angeles Times

Journalist­s lose Myanmar case

- By David Pierson

SINGAPORE — Myanmar’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the verdicts of two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist­s for Reuters who were jailed while reporting on the country’s violent suppressio­n of Rohingya Muslims.

Wa Lone, 33, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29, have been imprisoned since December 2017 and are serving sevenyear terms for violating an obscure colonial-era state secrets law.

The two are accused of obtaining secret documents, though lawyers for the reporters appealed by arguing there was insufficie­nt evidence. A policeman also testified in a lower court that the documents had been planted.

That wasn’t enough to persuade Justice Soe Naing to overturn the conviction­s.

“The appeal is rejected,” he said in a terse statement.

Reuters strongly disadone with the decision and vowed to continue seeking the reporters’ release.

“Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo did not commit any crime, nor was there any proof that they did,” Gail Gove, Reuters’ chief counsel, said in a statement. “Instead, they were victims of a police set-up to silence their truthful reporting. We will continue to do all we can to free them as soon as possible.”

The decision by Myanmar’s top court comes more than three months after the journalist­s’ appeal was rejected by a lower court.

The case has brought widespread internatio­nal condemnati­on of Myanmar’s government and cast doubt on the country’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

The journalist­s were part of a team at Reuters that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for internatio­nal reporting last week for coverage of the expulsion and slaughter of Rohingya from Myanmar.

Both Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have young children and wives who are struggling to adjust to life without their spouses.

“Both of us were hoping for a lot,” said Chit Su, Kyaw Soe Oo’s wife. “We’re desperatel­y sad it didn’t happen.”

Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer for both journalist­s, said all judicial options had now been exhausted and his clients’ best hope for freedom is a presidenti­al pardon or a judicial review by parliament.

“I am greatly disappoint­ed,” he said from outside the court in Naypyidaw. “This has damaged our country very much.”

The country also known as Burma had only recently emerged from decades of military rule when a civilian government won a parliament­ary majority in 2015. Led by pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, there was optimism that the country of 53 million would open up to the world.

But ethnic strife has ungreed much of that hope after the majority Buddhist government permitted widespread murder, rape and torture of Rohingya by the military and police.

Much of Reuters’ reporting detailed aspects of the campaign, which has led to 700,000 members of the minority group fleeing for neighborin­g Bangladesh.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, condemned the continued imprisonme­nt of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, which he said highlighte­d the failure of Myanmar’s democracy.

“Sadly, when it comes to media freedom, both Myanmar’s military and the civilian government seem equally determined to extinguish any ability to question their misrule and rights violations,” Robertson said. “These two journalist­s are just the most prominent victims of this pernicious campaign against freedom of expression that is rapidly spreading in the country.”

 ?? Ye Aung Thu AFP/Getty Images ?? MYANMAR’S highest court upheld the verdicts of Wa Lone, pictured in September, and fellow journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, who were jailed while reporting on the country’s violent suppressio­n of Rohingya Muslims.
Ye Aung Thu AFP/Getty Images MYANMAR’S highest court upheld the verdicts of Wa Lone, pictured in September, and fellow journalist Kyaw Soe Oo, who were jailed while reporting on the country’s violent suppressio­n of Rohingya Muslims.

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