Published: Wed, April 11, 2018
Medical | By Bryan Strickland

Burma: Reuters journalists to stay in jail

Burma: Reuters journalists to stay in jail

Myanmar has faced global condemnation and accusations of extrajudicial killings, ethnic cleansing and genocide as some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh following a military crackdown on insurgents.

The two journalists were arrested December 12, with police accusing them of violating the Official Secrets Act, a law dating from British colonial times, by acquiring "important secret papers" handed to them by two policemen who worked in Rakhine.

Myanmar's security forces launched brutal counterattacks against Rohingya Muslims after a Rohingya insurgent group attacked police outposts on August 25.

The two journalists were arrested after they were invited to meet police officers for dinner in the north of Yangon.

On Tuesday, seven of those soldiers were sentenced to 10 years in prison with hard labour.

Police witnesses, however, have said the reporters were stopped and searched at a traffic checkpoint by officers who were unaware they were journalists, and found to be holding in their hands documents relating to security force deployments in Rakhine.

However, the army has repeatedly claimed the Rohingya men were "terrorists", but has not presented any evidence to back up the allegation.

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Wa Lone's wife Pan Ei Mon, who is pregnant with their first child, broke down in tears after the hearing, telling journalists, "Wa Lone told me "not to expect too much" but I'm always expecting as his wife. Three soldiers of other rank were demoted to the rank of "private", permanently dismissed from the military and sentenced to 10 years with hard labor at a prison in a remote area", read the military statement.

Lead prosecutor Kyaw Min Aung had argued against the dismissal of the case, reiterating the prosecution's position that the documents the police say the reporters had in their possession were secret and that the court could assume they meant to harm the security of the country. Last month Reuters announced that prominent rights attorney Amal Clooney had joined the legal team.

Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said he was disappointed with the court's decision.

"We believe that there are solid grounds for the court to dismiss this matter and to release our journalists".

Refugees arriving over the months since then have reported killings, burnings, looting and rape by members of the Myanmar security forces and Buddhist vigilantes.

"They have not violated any laws in the course of their newsgathering and were simply doing their jobs".

But Wa Lone, who turned 32 on Wednesday and was brought cake by his friends, still expressed optimism. Buddhist villagers attacked some of them with swords and soldiers shot the others dead, the military had said.

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