Yangon: Two Reuters reporters accused of breaching Myanmar’s state secrets law during their reporting of a massacre of Rohingya were jailed for seven years on Monday, in a case that has drawn outrage as an attack on media freedom.
Myanmar nationals Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, who have been held in Yangon’s Insein prison since their arrest in December last year, 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 doing their jobs to expose the extrajudicial killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in a Rakhine village in September last year.
They said they were invited to dinner by police who handed them documents before the pair was arrested as they left the restaurant for possessing classified material. But 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.”The duo was bundled into a prison van after the verdict.
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.
On Saturday, more than 100 journalists and activists marched through Yangon in support of the reporters, whose trial echoes the treatment of government critics during the long years of military rule in Myanmar.
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.