Reuters journalists’ appeal is rejected in Myanmar. According to The Washington Post, two journalists employed by international news agency Reuters appealed their imprisonment to Myanmar’s High Court in Yangon last Friday. The journalists, Wa Lone, and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested in December of 2017 on charges of possessing official documents and violating Myanmar’s State Secrets Act and sentenced to seven years in prison. Lone and Soe Oo’s appeal was denied by High Court judge Aung Naing on the basis of failure to submit enough evidence to prove innocence. The imprisonment and latest ruling has caused an uproar throughout news agencies, human rights groups, and NGOs worldwide and is considered a serious attack on the free press.
The international attention to these recent events has prompted statements from news agencies, government officials, and the journalists’ lawyer, Than Zaw Aung. The editor in Chief of Reuters, Stephen J. Adler, emphasizes that “reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar’s commitment to the rule of law and democracy remains in doubt.” In conjunction with this statement, ruling judge Naing claims the adjudication to be “a suitable punishment,” and State counselor and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi further defends the prosecution as entirely just. In a statement to The Washington Post, Aung finds the judgment to be “very disappointing not just for the two journalists, but for the rule of law here [in Myanmar].” Al Jazeera also reports a statement from human rights NGO, Amnesty International that points out that Burmese police admitted to setting up Lone and Soe Oo and condemn the rejected appeal as “an appalling injustice.”
The charges against journalists Lone and Soe Oo are entirely unjustified and are an alarming attack on the free press and its purpose of reporting on people, states, and organizations in order to keep them accountable for their actions. In this case, the journalists have the opportunity to appeal a final time to the Supreme Court of Myanmar which is still to be determined. The democratic values of Myanmar’s government remain extremely in question, and therefore the prospect of a fair trial given the current evidence does as well. If the two decide to make another appeal it will be crucial that the defence organizes itself well enough to combat the corruption of Myanmar’s judicial system.
Before their initial arrest in December of 2017, Lone and Soe Oo had been in the Burmese state of Rakhine investigating the murder of 10 Rohingya men by police forces and local Buddhists. According to The Washington Post, their inquiry for the truth relates to the larger investigation of the genocide of Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, and the repeated massacres by government officials. Over 700,000 people have escaped violence and persecution in Myanmar, and Rohingya refugees have recounted that government-organized gender-based violence in the form of rape and mass killings has been taking place against the minority according to NPR. As the state cracks down on its own journalists’ ability to report freely, Lone and Soe Oo remain implicated in the stringent and groundless campaign by the Burmese government to block freedom of the press. In a statement to the Washington Post from a prosecution witness, it was admitted in court that the arrests of the Reuters journalists were a set up by Burmese police, further exemplifying the absurd encroachment of human rights in Myanmar. The newly elected President, Win Myint holds the power to pardon the journalists. According to The Washington Post, it is not likely that he will do so without the blessing of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is the leader of the National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s governing political party.
The world has watched as these journalists face injustice at the hands of a corrupt government, and it will continue to as there is a possibility for an appeal to the supreme court. The mounting evidence that proves the pair innocent of the charges against them has not hindered Burmese judges and government officials from persecuting and imprisoning them thus far. Rights groups and countries maintain demands for the immediate release of Lone and Soe Oon, but the fate of these journalists depends on the willingness of the prosecution in conceding to set up, or at the very least, the lack of a crime committed. As this case evolves, it will undoubtedly exhibit how much human rights and freedoms are in jeopardy within Myanmar as violence and unjust persecution continue.