In a disgraceful blow to press freedom, a Myanmar judge on Monday convicted two Reuters journalists of violating state secrets and sentenced them to seven years in prison for their reporting on a massacre by government troops of 10 Rohingya men last year.
“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Reuters editor in chief Stephen J. Adler said after the ruling.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were reporting on the killing in September 2017 of eight men and two teenagers by state security forces in the village of Inn Din, a village in Rakhine State. The attacks are part of a campaign by the military to eliminate Rohingya Muslims in what observers have called ethnic cleansing and acts of genocide.
Some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have since fled to Bangladesh. The government said its security forces are conducting a counterinsurgency operation in response to Muslim militant attacks.
While reporting on the massacre in Inn Din, in which the 10 men were shot and hacked to death and then dumped into a shallow grave with the assistance of Buddhist villagers, the two journalists were arrested on Dec. 12, 2017, in a police operation to entrap them.
“We know we did nothing wrong. I have no fear. I believe in justice, democracy and freedom,” Wa Lone said after the verdict, Reuters reported.
Kyaw Soe Oo added: “What I want to say to the government is: you can put us in jail, but do not close the eyes and ears of the people.”
According to Reuters:
A U.N mandated fact-finding mission said last week that Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and called for top generals to be prosecuted. Myanmar rejected the findings.
The International Criminal Court is considering whether it has jurisdiction over events in Rakhine, while the United States, the European Union and Canada have sanctioned Myanmar military and police officers over the crackdown.
Attorneys for the two reporters are expected to appeal the verdict.