Myanmar Sentences Reuters Journalists to Seven Years in Jail

(Bloomberg) -- A Myanmar judge sentenced Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo to seven years in prison on Monday after they were found guilty of breaching the country’s Official Secrets Act.

Myanmar Sentences Reuters Journalists to Seven Years in Jail

The two reporters were arrested Dec. 12 after police accused them of violating the 1923 law by acquiring “important secret papers” from two policemen. They both pleaded not guilty, with Reuters citing “compelling evidence of a police set-up.”

“Today is a sad day for Myanmar, Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and the press everywhere,” Reuters editor-in-chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement. “This is a major step backward in Myanmar’s transition to democracy, cannot be squared with the rule of law or freedom of speech, and must be corrected by the Myanmar government as a matter of urgency.”

In August, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on members of Myanmar’s military over their alleged involvement in ethnic cleansing of the country’s Rohingya Muslim population. Myanmar has rejected a United Nations report last month that said Myanmar’s top generals should be investigated and prosecuted for committing genocide and war crimes against the Rohingya.

International criticism over the case has damaged Myanmar’s reputation, making it harder for companies that sought opportunities in the country after the U.S. lifted broad-based sanctions following its transition to democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been a political prisoner before taking power, has faced criticism for failing to protect press freedom or doing more to protect hundreds of thousands of minority Muslims.

In the Reuters case, the police officers had worked in Rakhine state, where security forces have been blamed for rights abuses against the Rohingya that sparked the exodus of some 650,000 people to Bangladesh.

U.S. ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel, who was present in court when the verdict was delivered, said on Twitter that it was “deeply troubling for everybody who has struggled so hard here for media freedom.”

In January, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the U.S. was “deeply disappointed” by the decision in Myanmar to allow the prosecution of the two journalists.

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