Worldwide Condemnation for Harsh Trial for Two Journalists
The harsh sentencing of two Reuters journalists in Myanmar has drawn condemnation from the international community, citing it as a repression of justice and press freedom.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, both Reuters journalists, were sentenced to seven years in prison for charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act, under laws introduced in 1923 under British rule.
The conviction of the two journalists sparked different reactions worldwide. But for many, the arrest and charges are deemed a severe blow for press freedom.
The new UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called for the immediate release of the two journalists. “The reporters’ coverage of the Inn Din massacre by the military … was clearly in the public interest,” she said.
She said the trial was a travesty of justice. “Their conviction follows a legal process that clearly breached international standards. It sends a message to all journalists in Myanmar that they cannot operate fearlessly, but must rather make a choice to either self-censor or risk prosecution.”
British Ambassador to Myanmar Dan Chugg also expressed dismay at the unfair verdict against the two journalists. He said, “Speaking on behalf of the British government, but also on behalf of European Union member states, we are extremely disappointed by this verdict. Freedom of expression and rule of law are fundamental in a democracy, and this case has passed a long shadow over both today.”
In addition, Press freedom advocates, the European Union and countries including the US, Canada and Australia called for the men to be released.
The journalists were detained in December. They were arrested while reporting on an alleged killing of 10 Rohingya at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Inn Din, a village in the north of Rakhine state.
Lack of Condemnation from Aung San Suu Syi
Aung San Suu Syi, the Nobel peace prize winner received some backlash for her lack of condemnation on the trial and conviction of the two Reuters journalists.
Her silence about the case has been widely criticized especially that she might grant an amnesty at the end of the trial. However, speculation surfaced that she described the reporters as traitors.
The Myanmar government defended Aung San Suu Syi for her silence.
Aung Hla Tun, a former Reuters journalist who now works for the government as deputy Minister of Information, defended the Nobel Laureate awardee.
Mr Tun said, “Criticising the judicial system would be tantamount to contempt of court. I don’t think she will do it.”
The trial of the two journalists came after the United Nations accused the Myanmar military of committing crimes against humanity particularly in the case of the Rohingya minorities. This genocide accusation against the Myanmar army has made headlines around the world. However, the Myanmar military rejected the allegations.
The violence in Myanmar that began in September 2017 led to the displacement of around 700,000 Rohingya, forcing them to evacuate to Bangladesh.