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Myanmar High Court rejects appeal by Reuters reporters against seven-year sentence

Myanmar’s High Court has rejected an appeal by two Reuters journalists against their seven-year prison sentence handed down after they were found guilty of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act.

Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were arrested while reporting on the massacre of ten men in Rakhine by Burmese troops and villagers.

They were convicted of breaking the Official Secrets Act in June 2018, despite the court hearing testimony from one police officer who said the pair were set up in a “trap” to arrest them. He was also later jailed.

Upholding the sentence today, High Court Judge Aung Niang described the punishment as “suitable”, according to ReutersNiang also said last week that the police arrest of the pair could not be described as a stitch up.

In a statement, Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen Adler said: “Today’s ruling is yet another injustice among many inflicted upon Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo.

“They remain behind bars for one reason: those in power sought to silence the truth.  

“Reporting is not a crime, and until Myanmar rights this terrible wrong, the press in Myanmar is not free, and Myanmar’s commitment to rule of law and democracy remains in doubt.”

Adler and the pair’s legal defence, which includes human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, argued that the Myanmar court “ignored compelling evidence of a police set-up”, “serious due process violations” and that it had wrongly shifted the burden of proof onto the defence.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was “worried about due process” in the Myanmar case.

He said: “The thin red line between open societies and closed societies is whether journalists are free to do their job and in 2017, the last year we have figures for, 70 journalists were murdered.

“We are very worried about due process in [the Reuters] case and we urge [State Counsellor] Aung San Suu Kyi to look at whether that due process happened, and to recognise that as someone who fought for democracy in Burma, she should be taking a personal interest in the future of these two brave journalists.”

Reuters could now appeal the Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone’ sentences in the supreme court of Myanmar.

The pair were twice awarded at Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards 2018, which were held last month.

Pictures: Reuters/Ann Wang

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