Reuters reporters jailed for seven years in Myanmar ‘state secrets’ case

Two Reuters journalists accused of breaching Myanmar’s state secrets law during their reporting of a massacre of Rohingya Muslims were jailed for seven years on Monday, drawing outrage over the attack on media freedom and calls for their immediate release.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who have been held in Yangon’s Insein prison since their arrest in December, were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, a draconian British colonial-era law which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

The case has sparked an outcry among the international community as an attempt to muzzle reporting on last year’s crackdown by Myanmar’s security forces on the Muslim Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.

Army-led “clearance operations” drove 700 000 Rohingya into Bangladesh, carrying with them widespread accounts of atrocities — rape, murder and arson — by Myanmar security forces.

The reporters denied the charges, insisting they were set up while exposing the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine village of Inn Din in September last year.


They said they were arrested after being invited to dinner by police in Yangon who handed them documents. As they left the restaurant, the pair were detained for possessing classified material.

Judge Ye Lwin was unmoved by their testimony.

“It is found that the culprits intended to harm the interests of the state. And so they have been found guilty under the state secrets act,” he told the packed Yangon court.

“They are sentenced to seven years in prison each.”

As they were led to the waiting prison van the handcuffed duo, both Myanmar nationals, gave brief but emotional statements on the court steps.

“The government can detain us in the prison but… don’t close the ears and eyes of the people,” Kyaw Soe Oo said.

Wa Lone who gave a defiant “thumbs up” to the massed ranks of reporters, said “we will face it (the verdict) with stability and courage.”

‘Crimes against humanity’

Defence lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said that an appeal would be lodged “as soon as possible” against the verdict which Reuters denounced as based on “false charges”.

“Today is a sad day for Myanmar… and the press everywhere,” Stephen J. Adler, Reuters editor-in-chief, said in a statement, adding that the outcome was “designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press”.

The army has published its version of events at Inn Din village, conceding the Rohingya men were killed while in custody but saying it was a one-off act of abuse by a mix of security forces and ethnic Rakhine locals.

Monday’s ruling comes a week after the release of an explosive United Nations-led study into abuses in Rakhine, accusing Myanmar’s army chief of heading up a campaign of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” against the Rohingya.

It also strongly criticised de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi for failing to use moral authority to stand up for the stateless minority.

The same day, Facebook pulled down the pages of Myanmar’s army chief Min Aung Hlaing and other military top brass, in what the company said was a bid to prevent them from further fanning “ethnic and religious tensions”.

As calls for Myanmar’s military leaders to face an international tribunal mount, they have remained defiant, insisting last year’s crackdown was a proportionate response to attacks by Rohingya militants.

Suu Kyi’s reputation as a defender of human rights has been eviscerated by her refusal to speak out against the military for its handling of the Rohingya crisis or in support of the jailed reporters.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Richard Sargent
Richard Sargent
Richard Sargent is the AFP's Myanmar bureau chief.

Related stories

Moi and the media: How Kenyan journalism suffered under his iron heel

The former president's stranglehold on the press made it very difficult for journalists to do their jobs

‘The police shoot at journalists all the time’: Press freedom shrinks in Somalia

Fewer journalists have been killed since President Farmajoo came to power in 2017, but general freedom of expression has been sharply curtailed, as detailed in a new Amnesty International report

Why the Gambia’s plea for the Rohingya matters for international justice

In early December, the International Court of Justice heard arguments filed by the Gambia against Myanmar for violations of the Genocide Convention. This included...

Press freedom group condemns attempted kidnapping of Mozambican editor

One of Mozambique’s most senior journalists escaped a kidnapping attempt in Maputo on New Year’s Eve. Matias Guente,...

Aung San Suu Kyi at the ICJ: when the personal is political

Myanmar’s leader personally faces allegations while avoiding the task of changing the country’s trajectory

EDITORIAL: Tanzania gags free press

Tanzania’s attacks on its once-vibrant press have become so commonplace that the crackdown barely makes the news
Advertising

Ingonyama Trust Board moves to retrench staff

More than 50 workers at the Ingonyama Trust Board have been issued section 189 notices

No proof of Covid-19 reinfection, yet

Some people report testing positive for Covid-19 after initially having the disease and then testing negative. Scientists are still trying to understand if this means that reinfection is possible
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday