Myanmar court rejects appeals of two Reuters journalists sentenced to seven years in prison

A court in Myanmar on Friday rejected the appeals of two Reuters journalists who were sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly breaking the Official Secrets Act. The High Court said that the defendants did not provide enough evidence to show that they were innocent, Reuters reported.

In September, a lower court in Myanmar convicted Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and sentenced the two reporters to seven years in jail for allegedly leaking official secrets. The duo were working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state’s Inn Din village during an Army crackdown in 2017. Both journalists have been in jail since December 2017.

“It was a suitable punishment,” High Court Judge Aung Naing said on Friday. The judge claimed that the reporters did not follow journalistic ethics, and it was not possible to determine whether their arrests were a trap.

The defence had argued that there was “compelling evidence” of the arrest being a set-up by the police, as well as of violations in due process and of gaps in the prosecution’s case, The Guardian reported. It also said that prosecutors failed to prove that the journalists collected secret information and sent it to the enemies of Myanmar. The defence asserted that the lower court wrongly placed the burden of proof on the accused.

But Khine Khine Soe, a legal officer representing the government, claimed that the evidence showed the reporters collected and kept confidential documents, with the intention of harming Myanmar’s national interests. The judge, after upholding the sentence passed by the lower court, said the duo can appeal to the Supreme Court.

On September 19, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres had urged the Myanmar government to pardon and release the journalists. However, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi justified their imprisonment. “They were not jailed because they were journalists, but because the court has decided that they had broken the Official Secrets Act,” Suu Kyi said. “The case was held in open court… I do not think anybody has bothered to read the summary of the judge.”