In a development with far-reaching consequences, a Myanmar court today sentenced two Reuters journalists to seven years of imprisonment for breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act. Journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on December 12th, 2017 and were ‘found’ to be in possession of incriminating and confidential state documents.
“The defendants … have breached Official Secrets Act section 3.1.c, and are sentenced to seven years,” the judge said as he announced his verdict. The defendants on the other hand, had refuted the accusation that they had broken the law and instead, pleaded that the documents were planted on them by two police officials.
The journalists have plead innocence to all charges and have since their arrest in December claimed that they have been targeted for their work, especially over their investigation of possible violence and abuse by the Myanmar military and coverage of the murder of 10 Rohingya civilians.
The judgment was met by shock from all quarters, not just in Myanmar but, abroad as well. More significantly, their sentence is a blow to freedom of press, according to many international observers.
While the UN had called for an immediate release of the journalists and for the authorities to respect the pursuit of freedom of expression, similar appeals were made by the EU and ambassadors of several countries.
Reuters Editor in-chief Stephen J Adler while calling it a sad day in the history of Myanmar and the press suggested that Reuters will appeal the verdict in international forums.
The present judgment comes in light of the growing furore and anger against Myanmar military action against Rohingya civilians, especially women and children. An independent fact-finding report by the United Nations had suggested the complicity of several military officials in perpetrating war crimes against Rohingyas.