Two Reuters journalists in Myanmar will have to spend seven years in prison.
Carrying out their duties as journalists.
A court in Myanmar has sentenced Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, to seven years in prison for "violating a state secrets act."
While the legal jargon makes it sound like the two reporters committed an offense, facts suggest otherwise.
The two men were arrested in December 2017 while carrying official documents, which, prosecutors claim were secret state documents. They had just completed a feature on the ongoing state-sanctioned genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the Rakhine State.
However, the two colleagues have maintained their innocence, claiming they had been set up as the police provided them "official" documents moments before their arrest.
The verdict has widely been called an attack on press of freedom.
"Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and press freedom anywhere," said Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler.
"We will not wait while Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo suffer this injustice and will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days, including whether to seek relief in an international forum."
While the case has attracted international spotlight, not a lot of attention has been paid to the report that got the two journalists into trouble in the first place.
Last August, Myanmar's army launched what it called a counterterrorism operation against alleged Rohingya Muslim militants in the Rakhine State.
However, the military operation soon spiraled into a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslim community as a whole.
The army allegedly massacred, tortured and raped hundreds of Rohingya villagers. There have been reports of babies being burnt alive. The total number of killings is difficult to determine since Myanmar, under the de-facto leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, restricted media access to Rakhine, where most of the crisis unfolded.
Initially, Myanmar's army categorically denied all allegations of human rights abuses and even cleared itself of any wrongdoing in an investigation carried out by the army itself.
However, with increased international pressure for more accountability, Myanmar's army admitted executing 10 people, claiming they were all militants, in the village of Inn Din.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo covered this particular incident and wrote a special report that has been published by Reuters.
As per the Myanmar army's version of the executions, the 10 men belonged to a group of 200 “terrorists” that attacked security forces in Inn Din.
"Soldiers decided to kill the men, the army said, because intense fighting in the area made it impossible to transfer them to police custody. The army said it would take action against those involved," stated the report.
However, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo interviewed some Buddhist villagers who "reported no attack by a large number of insurgents on security forces in Inn Din." In fact, Rohingya witnesses said the Burmese soldiers randomly selected 10 men from among hundreds of displaced people, including women and children, who were stranded on a nearby beach.
During the investigation for their article, the journalists were offered official documents by two police officers. Soon afterwards, they were arrested over the possession of those papers.
Kyaw Soe Oo's three-year-old daughter and wife were present during the verdict:
Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon, gave birth to their first child last month, according to Reuters.
Many suspect foul play in Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo's arrests. Yet, they have been sentenced to jail for simply reporting the truth, especially at a time when Myanmar authorities had made it difficult for journalists to do their job.
Meanwhile, the country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was once rewarded for her vocal human rights advocacy, has remained criminally silent. She has denied the army's involvement in any massacres of the Rohingya community and blamed "foreign" press for spread misinformation. Throughout the trial of the two Reuters journalists, she did not voice support for press freedom -- not even once.
“The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts’ willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities,” said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia director.
“These sentences mark a new low for press freedom and further backsliding on rights under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government."
Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Reuters