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Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO, Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma, September 2013
Citizenship

Journalists Who Covered Myanmar Rohingya Massacre Jailed for 7 Years


Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals include a call for peace, justice, and strong institutions, including the reduction of violence everywhere. The goal also highlights the need to ensure public access to information, for which journalism and the freedom of the press is a necessity. Journalists like Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo have played a vital role in exposing the injustices and violence faced by the Rohingya people to the world. You can join us by taking action for the Global Goals here

Two journalists in Myanmar have been jailed for seven years after being found guilty of breaking the Official Secrets Act while reporting on the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims. 

Reuters journalists Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, are both Myanmar nationals and were sentenced on Monday by a court in the country. 

Their sentencing comes just over a year after horrific violence against the Rohingya people prompted hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes for neighbouring Bangladesh. 

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In just a few months, more than 723,000 Rohingya left their homes, while 25,000 people were killed and thousands more were raped, maimed, and injured, and whole communities were destroyed. 

The international community has condemned both the violence — which was described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” — and the authorities' reported lack of effort in bringing those responsible for the violence to justice. 

The two journalists were arrested in December just moments after reportedly being given official documents by police at a restaurant. The arrests came during the journalists’ investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya men by Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Inn Din, a town in Rakhine state, according to the Independent

While they say they are innocent and that they were framed, judge Ye Lwin said during sentencing that they were in possession of “confidential documents” that were “not public information” and would have been useful “to enemies of the state and terrorist organisations.” 

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The case has ramped up already existing criticism of the country’s de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in her handling of the Rohingya crisis. 

Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J Adler said: “Today is a sad day for Myanmar.” 

“These two admirable reporters have already spent nearly nine months in prison on false charges designed to silence their reporting and intimidate the press,” he added.

“Without any evidence of wrongdoing and in the face of compelling evidence of a police set-up, today’s ruling condemns them to the continued loss of their freedom and condones the misconduct of security forces,” he said. 

Wa Lone told reporters: “We know what we did. We know we did nothing wrong. I have no fear, I believe in justice, democracy, and freedom.” 

Kyaw Soe Oo added: “What I want to say to the government is: you can put us in jail, but do not close the eyes and ears of the people.”

Myanmar government spokesperson Zaw Htay didn’t respond to requests for comment about the verdict, according to reports

Meanwhile, the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and campaigners for press freedom are all reportedly calling for their release.

“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,” said Knut Ostby, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.

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Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International’s director of crisis response said: “It’s thanks to the bravery of journalists like Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo that the military’s atrocities have been exposed. Instead of targeting these two journalists, the Myanmar authorities should have been going after those responsible for killings, rape, torture, and the torching of hundreds of Rohingya villages.” 

A UN report published last month described the massacre of Rohingya Muslims as a genocide, based on the “level of organisation indicating a plan for destruction; and the extreme scale and brutality of the violence.” 

The report identified six generals as the chief culprits of the genocide, and recommended that all six be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for actions that “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.”