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  • Activists call for release of imprisoned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on Dec. 12.

    Activists call for release of imprisoned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo on Dec. 12. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 January 2019

Two Reuters reporters convicted to seven years in prison are accused of intending to "harm the country." The defense will appeal before the supreme court.

A Myanmar court Friday rejected the appeal of two Reuters reporters sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of breaking the Official Secrets Act. The court saying the defense had not provided sufficient evidence to show they were innocent.

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The 32-year-old Wa Lone and 28-year-old Kyaw Soe Oo were convicted in September, sparking an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.

"It was a suitable punishment," said High Court Judge Aung Naing, referring to the seven-year prison term meted out by the lower court. The reporters’ defense said they will present a new appeal before the country’s supreme court.  

"Today's ruling is yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They remain behind bars for one reason: those in power sought to silence the truth," said Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler in a statement.

"Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights, this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar's commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt," Adler added.

In their appeal arguments last month, defense lawyers cited evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime. They asserted the lower court that tried the case had wrongly placed the burden of proof on the defendants.

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

Explaining his verdict, Judge Aung Naing said the reporters had behaved in a way that showed they intended to harm the country.

The judge cited meetings between reporter Wa Lone and members of the security forces as well as a notebook found at the journalist's house that contained the phone number of a member of the Arakan Army, an armed ethnic rebel group he had reported on while covering peace negotiations several years ago.

Judge Aung Naing further argued the defense had failed to prove authorities had set-up the two journalists.

Standing outside the court building in Yangon where the judgment was pronounced, Kristian Schmidt, the European Union ambassador to Myanmar, said the ruling was a "miscarriage of justice and it gives us great concern for the independence of the justice system of Myanmar".

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 United Nations' estimates.

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