Two Reuters journalists serving seven-year jail terms for their reporting on the Rohingya crisis this afternoon had their appeal dismissed by the Yangon Region High Court, thwarting hopes the pair would be freed early.
Judge Aung Naing upheld the previous court’s ruling that Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo had broken Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, saying that the original verdict was “not wrong according to the law” and that was “a reasonable decision.”
Prosecutors said the journalists possessed secret documents about security operations in Rakhine State and that they found numbers connected to rebel groups the Arakan Army and Kachin National Congress in their phones.
After reading out the prosecution’s reasoning behind the decision, he told the packed courtroom that “the court decides to dismiss the appeal.”
Pan Ei Mon and Chit Su Win, the journalists’ wives, wept as the judge read the ruling.
Than Zaw Aung, lead lawyer on the case, told journalists he was “disappointed in the decision,” but said they would now discuss a potential appeal to Myanmar’s Supreme Court with the journalists and their families, a process that could take up to six months.
“The prosecution upheld the previous court’s ruling, which is a disappointment. It is a blow to our country’s media freedom and freedom of speech,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.
Their duo’s boss, Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler, blasted the decision in a tweet posted in its immediate wake.
“Today’s ruling is yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. They remain behind bars for one reason: those in power sought to silence the truth,” he wrote.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested by plainclothes police on Dec. 12, 2017, outside a Northern Yangon restaurant while working on a story that would expose the massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys, part of a brutal military campaign that has driven more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh.
The journalists have repeatedly insisted that they were “entrapped” in a police set-up, something corroborated by the courtroom testimony of former captain and whistleblower Moe Yan Naing, who told a court that his superior had ordered others to “get” Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.
Moe Yan Naing was jailed in the wake of his testimony.
The two journalists have been praised internationally for their work in exposing the Myanmar army’s crimes, earning them multiple honors including sharing Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2018 alongside several other journalists.
Various international watchdogs and human rights groups have called on the UN and the ICC to investigate Myanmar’s top generals for genocide, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations. They have also criticised Myanmar’s de facto leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to speak up about the plight of the Rohingya.
Additional reporting by AFP.