Published: Sun, January 13, 2019
Worldwide | By Myra Stephens

Court Rejects Appeal by Jailed Reuters Reporters

Court Rejects Appeal by Jailed Reuters Reporters

A court in Myanmar on Friday rejected the appeal of two Reuters journalists convicted of violating the country's Official Secrets Act during their reporting on the country's crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, and maintained the seven-year prison terms they were sentenced to last year.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted by a lower court in September for illegally obtaining state secrets related to the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state.

"Everything about this case, both the substance and its conduct, called for their convictions to be overturned, but Myanmar's justice system has shown its determination until the very end to punish Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo", RSF Asia-Pacific desk head Daniel Bastard said.

Reuters reports said the reporters were arrested as they were working on an investigation into the murder of ten Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar's security forces in the western Rakhine state of Myanmar, during army crackdown in August previous year. "We now call on its highest political officials to pardon these journalists as quickly as possible so that they can be reunited with their families".

The defence can now appeal to the Supreme Court, based in the capital Naypyitaw.

"Canada joins the worldwide community in reiterating our call for the immediate release of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo so they may regain their freedom and continue their vital work". "We can not stand by and accept this antidemocratic decision.Journalists must have the freedom to report the facts and to defend, expose and advance the truth without fear of retaliation, violence, imprisonment or being killed".

In their appeal arguments made last month, defence lawyers had cited evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime.

In a rare admission, Myanmar's military conceded its soldiers were behind the massacre Reuters was investigating.

Wa Lone had testified during the trial that the phone number did not work and he did not have contact with the rebel group. He said they meant to harm national security and the national interest.

He said the defense had failed to prove the arrests were a set-up by authorities.

"I feel really sad that what we hoped for did not happen", a stone-faced Chit Su Win, who is married to Kyaw Soe Oo, told reporters outside the court.

Jeremy Hunt, Britain's foreign secretary, said the leader of Myanmar should be taking a personal interest in the case and determining whether due process was adhered to.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay was not available for comment.

European Union ambassador to Myanmar, Kristian Schmidt, expressed disappointment over the ruling. "We are very anxious about due process in this case", Mr Hunt told BBC radio.

Prosecutors say the two had classified information regarding security operations in Rakhine state, from where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled during an army-led crackdown the United Nations has dubbed "ethnic cleansing".

The violent military campaign in 2017 forced more than 7,20,000 Rohingya travel across the border to Bangladesh, with refugees bringing their stories of murder, rape and arson.

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