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News > World

Jailed Journalists Appeal to Myanmar's Top Court For Release

  • Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been sentenced to seven years in jail in a landmark case that calls into question Myanmar's democracy.

    Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have been sentenced to seven years in jail in a landmark case that calls into question Myanmar's democracy. | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 February 2019
Opinion

The fight for the freedom of two Reuters journalists, arrested under a colonial-era law in Myanmar while reporting on the Rohingya crisis, is far from over.

Lawyers for two Reuters reporters jailed in Myanmar for breaking a colonial-era official secrets law appealed to the Supreme Court Friday against their conviction, as a rights group said the government wielded repressive laws against peaceful critics.

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The appeal, citing evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime, came as New York-based Human Rights Watch said Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's government had dashed hopes for Myanmar's first democratic leader in decades to protect free speech.

"Our petition asks the Supreme Court to finally provide justice to Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, reverse the lower courts' errors, and order the release of our journalists," Reuters said in a statement.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were jailed for seven years after being convicted in September in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar's progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.

Human Rights Watch said in a report freedom of expression had been deteriorating since Suu Kyi's administration came to power in 2016, with prosecutions creating a "climate of fear" among journalists.

"Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy promised a new Myanmar but the government still prosecutes peaceful speech and protests and has failed to revise old oppressive laws," the report's author, Linda Lakhdhir, said in a statement.

The report quotes figures from Myanmar free-speech group Athan showing that prosecution for peaceful speech featured in at least half of about 140 cases filed since 2016 under the Telecommunications Act, which asserts up to two years in jail for anyone who "defames" someone using a telecoms network.

"Aung San Suu Kyi's government has had a real opportunity to abolish the tools of oppression used by the military juntas, but has instead used them against peaceful critics and protesters," Lakhdhir said.

In September, Suu Kyi said the jailing of the Reuters reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression. The week after their conviction, she said they were sentenced for handling official secrets and "were not jailed because they were journalists".

Before their arrest, the reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and Buddhist civilians in western Myanmar's Rakhine State during an army crackdown that began in August 2017.

The operation sent more than 730,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh, according to U.N. estimates.
Last month, the high court rejected an initial appeal against the reporters' convictions, saying they had behaved in a way that showed they intended to harm the country. In their initial appeal, defense lawyers asserted the lower court that tried the case had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the defendants.

The defense said prosecutors had failed to prove the reporters gathered and collected secret information, sent information to an enemy or intended to harm national security. 

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 251 journalists are currently imprisoned across the world

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