Myanmar media, activists condemn
conviction of Reuters reporters
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[September 04, 2018]
By Shoon Naing and Thu Thu Aung
YANGON (Reuters) - Several Myanmar news
outlets and dozens of civil society groups denounced the jailing of two
Reuters reporters for seven years under the Official Secrets Act, and
said their conviction was an assault on the right to freedom of
A court found the two journalists guilty on Monday in a landmark case
seen as a test of progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which was ruled
by a military junta until 2011.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were investigating the killing of
villagers from the Rohingya Muslim minority by security forces and
civilians when they were arrested in December. They had pleaded not
The privately owned 7 Day Daily, one of Myanmar's most widely read
newspapers, printed a black block on its front page on Tuesday with an
editorial headlined "A sad day for Myanmar".
The newspaper said the sentences "end the hope that the current
government will value and respect media freedom", adding that the
government had earned a reputation for oppressing the media, as previous
military governments had done.
"Everyone needs to be aware that democracy will not survive in an
information dark age," the newspaper said.
Myanmar abolished direct media censorship in 2012, as part of reforms by
a quasi-civilian regime that led to elections in 2015 won by Nobel
laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's party.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay could not be reached for comment about the
verdict either on Monday or Tuesday.
Deputy Information Minister Aung Hla Tun rejected the suggestion that
the verdict was a blow to press freedom but acknowledged that some laws
were "not friendly" to the media, including the Official Secrets Act
under which the two reporters were convicted.
"This legislation was not enacted by this government, we inherited it,"
he told Reuters. "We're trying to review the laws. Some will be
abolished, if necessary, and some amended."
An editor of the Irrawaddy online news magazine, Kyaw Zwa Moe, said Suu
Kyi and President Win Myint had to understand the case was about the
peopleís right to know.
"There is nothing wrong in what these particular Reuters reporters did;
like any journalists they were simply doing their jobs by attempting to
gather information so as to uncover the truth," wrote Kyaw Zwa Moe, who
was a political prisoner during military rule.
The privately owned Myanmar Times carried a full, front-page
back-and-white photograph of Kyaw Soe Oo, in handcuffs and surrounded by
reporters as he left the court, saying the verdict was a "blow to press
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported the facts
of the verdict in four paragraphs on an inside page. It did not mention
any criticism of the ruling but noted that the defense could appeal.
The conviction of the reporters comes amid mounting pressure on the
government over the crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine State in west
Myanmar. The crackdown was sparked by attacks by Rohingya insurgents on
security forces in August 2017.
A U.N mandated fact-finding mission said last week that Myanmar's
military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with
"genocidal intent" and called for top generals to be prosecuted. Myanmar
rejected the findings.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled into Bangladesh since the
crackdown was launched, according to U.N. agencies.
[to top of second column]
A Myanmar newspaper displays the story about the sentences received
by Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, on its front page in
Yangon, Myanmar, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang
The two reporters had told the court two police officials handed
them papers at a restaurant in the city of Yangon moments before
other officers arrested them on Dec. 12.
One police witness testified the restaurant meeting was a set-up to
entrap the journalists, who were reporting at the time on the
massacre of 10 Rohingya Muslim men in Rakhine State. The judge said
on Monday that testimony had not been corroborated by other
During the hearings, a police officer had also told the court that
he burned notes he made at the time of the reportersí arrest, but
didnít explain why. Several prosecution witnesses contradicted the
police account of where the arrests took place. And a police major
conceded the "secret" information allegedly found on the reporters
wasnít actually a secret.
Zaw Htay, the government spokesman, has mostly declined comment on
the proceedings in court.
Seventy-six civil society groups said in a joint message on Twitter
that the trial "was neither free nor fair and was completely
"We take this as a crackdown on the right of access to information
and media freedom, and an oppressive gesture on all concerned people
of Myanmar who are aspiring and building for a society characterised
by rule of law, accountability, freedom and justice," the groups
said in the English-language statement.
The conviction of the two reporters drew condemnation from the
United Nations, many Western governments including the United
States, Britain and France, and international organizations.
Several diplomats said it raised questions about Myanmar's
transition towards democracy after nearly 50 years of harsh military
rule, and about the commitment to human rights of the government led
by Suu Kyi.
The information minister in the quasi-civilian administration that
ruled until Suu Kyi's election win said the verdict would damage the
"If you arrest and punish the journalists who are doing their job in
Rakhine it means you have something to hide," Ye Htut, who also
served as presidential spokesman in the previous administration,
Now a visiting senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian
Studies in Singapore, Ye Htut said he had been criticized in Myanmar
for a Facebook post likening the prosecution of the journalists to
events in Nazi Germany.
"The people tried to look the other way, to pretend thereís nothing
happening," he said.
"If you start to try to cover up one thing, that will lead to
(Additonal reporting by Simon Lewis, Antoni Slodkowski; Writing by
Robert Birsel; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)
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