‘A sad day for Myanmar’ as judge jails journalists for seven years

Reuters journalists in Myanmar sentenced to 7 years in jail

A court sentenced two Reuters reporters to seven years in prison on Monday for obtaining state secrets, in a case that raised questions about the independence of the nation's courts and has become emblematic of a faltering transition to democracy.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested on the outskirts of Yangon on December 12 after two police sources handed them allegedly classified documents that included the disposition of security forces in northern Rakhine State.

"As they committed an offence under the state secrets act, they are sentenced to seven years in prison each", judge Ye Lwin told the court. "The time already served by the defendants from December 12 will be taken into consideration".

The journalists were looking into the deaths of 10 Rohingya at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Inn Din, a village in the north of the state.

A file photo of detained Reuters journalist Kyaw Soe Oo (bottom, centre) and Wa Lone (top, centre) being escorted by police as they leave after a court hearing in Yangon, on Aug 20, 2018.

"The outrageous convictions of the Reuters journalists show Myanmar courts' willingness to muzzle those reporting on military atrocities", said Human Rights Watch's Asia director Brad Adams.

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Reacting to the news, Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler said, "This is a major step backwards in Myanmar's transition to democracy, can not be squared with the rule of law or freedom of speech".

They have maintained their innocence, saying they were set up by police.

"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 worldwide forum".

Theresa May has called for the immediate release of two Reuters journalists jailed for carrying police documents, saying the verdict undermines press freedom. "I believe in justice and democracy", Wa Lone said after the verdict.

The case has drawn worldwide attention as an example of how press freedom is suffering under the government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Dozens of journalists and pro-democracy activists marched Saturday in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, in support of the reporters.

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The duo, both Myanmar nationals, were charged with violating the Official Secrets Act, a draconian British colonial-era law which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

"We are extremely disappointed by this verdict", Britain and the U.S. have said, saying the court's decision was "deeply troubling for everybody who has struggled so hard here for media freedom".

During their investigation, they were offered documents by two police officers, but were arrested immediately afterwards for the possession of those documents. "We didn't go anything wrong", he said.

"The United Nations has consistently called for the release of the Reuters journalists and urged the authorities to respect their right to pursue freedom of expression and information", he said.

The verdict comes a year after the crisis in Rakhine state came to a head when a Rohingya militant group attacked several police posts.

The military responded with a brutal crackdown against the Rohingya minority.

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